Fate of charter school to be decided Monday

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The fate of a proposed charter school in Portales rests with an appeals hearing Monday before the New Mexico Public Education Department.

After the Portales school board denied the proposed Horace Mann Charter School a charter in September, organizers appealed the ruling to the state’s Charter Bureau, according to Portales schools Superintendent Randy Fowler. The Charter Bureau recommended in November denial of the appeal to Secretary of Education Veronica C. Garcia. Garcia, in turn, dismissed that recommendation and ordered the appeal proceed to a hearing at 1 p.m. Monday in the PED’s Mabry Hall.

The charter school would fall under the direction of the Portales school system.
Charter school organizer Joan Brown said the way she understood the Charter Bureau’s reasons for denial were that there were too many items that needed to be addressed even though most could be addressed with changes in the school’s charter.

“I think what’s going to happen is the secretary is going to say we’re not going to deny (the charter) on the number of reasons,” Brown said. “I think it’s political, but I don’t know exactly what’s causing all the motions for dismissal and denial. All I can do is keep addressing the issues.”

The school’s organizers propose to start with grades six through nine in the fall of 2007 and eventually have grades six through 12.

The school’s goal would be to provide a college preparatory alternative with an emphasis on math and sciences.

Fowler said the school administration met with the Charter Bureau in November and met earlier this week with the charter school organizers. The Monday meeting in Santa Fe was advertised as a public meeting by the board, allowing board members to be present at the meeting.

“I don’t know what to expect, we’ve never been through one of these before,” Fowler said.

Fowler said no specific topic has been outlined for the meeting or any specific additional information requested.

Brown and Fowler feel it is likely they’ll have an answer next week as to whether or not the school will organize under the school district.

Brown said her organization remains committed to starting the charter school under the wing of the school district, despite the fact a change in state laws in July that will allow a charter school to organize as a state-chartered school.

She said the time frame for that process could potentially cause her group to have to start over. She also said there is no guarantee they would be approved by the state.

“It could put us two years out before opening the doors,” Brown said. “We’re almost there now in terms of the process.”

Fowler said the board and administration has wanted all along for the organizers of Horace Mann to wait and apply as a school charter, adding that it could possibly foster a better relationship.

“As long as they are under the school district, the district becomes a compliance officer,” Fowler said. “It could be more of a positive relationship instead of an overseer we could be more of a partner.”