Charter school pursuing appeal to stay open

New Mexico Virtual Academy Governing Council approves resolution appealing board's decision during Jan. 3 meeting

Joshua Kellogg
  • The school board's decision to deny the charter reauthorization was due to alleged poor academic, financial and governance operations.
  • Lawyers for the online charter school have started the process to file an appeal, but no appeal has been filed.
  • The investigation by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas into the operations of NMVA and K12 Inc. is ongoing.

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Virtual Academy has started the process to appeal a denial of its charter reauthorization by the Farmington school board.

Farmington Municipal School District Superintendent Gene Schmidt listens during a Dec. 16 Board of Education meeting where the decision was made to deny a reauthorization of the New Mexico Virtual Academy's charter.

The online charter school’s Governing Council approved a resolution during a special meeting on Jan. 3 to appeal the decision made by the Farmington Municipal School District Board of Education during a Dec. 16 meeting.

Council President Cory Lee said the council feels like it owes it to the students, parents and faculty to pursue the appeal.

“I feel like there were some unfair judgments made in the denial meeting that need to be addressed,” Lee said.

The school opened in August 2012 and has an enrollment cap of 500 students in sixth through 12th grade.

Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt gave the recommendation to deny the reauthorization due to what he said was the charter school's poor performance in multiple categories, including academics and financial operations, according to the minutes of the meeting.

The percentage of the academy's students who met or exceeded proficiency in reading was 27 percent for the 2015-2016 school year, and only 15 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency in math, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department.

New Mexico Virtual Academy Director Carla Morález, left, academy staff member Rebecca Heilman and student Jordan Patterson listen on Dec. 16 as Farmington school Superintendent Gene Schmidt announces his recommendations for the academy at a special board meeting at the district's central office.

For the Farmington school district, the percentage of students who met or exceed reading proficiency was 36.3 percent and 24.2 percent in math for 2015-2016, according to the state education department.

The academy's graduation rate was 38.5 percent for the 2014-2015 school year, according to the state education department. The graduation rate for Farmington schools was 71.7 percent for the 2014-2015 school year.

During the Dec. 16 meeting, Farmington school board President Kyle Rhodes said he did not see anything in NMVA's plan that would actually change the direction of the charter school.

Lawyers representing the charter school have initiated the process of filing an appeal of the school board's decision with state Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, NMVA Director Carla Morález said.

Lee said it is undecided if they will file the appeal, and it could depend on how the negotiations go with the Farmington school board.

Discussions between academy officials and Farmington schools have not started, Schmidt said.

“The (Farmington school) board has made a statement that a five-year charter renewal request was something they were not prepared to grant,” he said.

Schmidt said the district is monitoring the situation to see what actions NMVA supporters make regarding the charter reauthorization. He said the academy's governing council members informally have asked him to prepare a plan on closing the charter school and transitioning students to other schools.

Governing Council President Cory Lee said he told Schmidt it was the district’s responsibility to prepare a closure plan for the school.

An investigation by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas into the operations of the academy and K12 Inc. — a for-profit company based in Virginia contracted to provide educational services and curriculum for the charter school — is ongoing, according to James Hallinan, a spokesman for the AG's Office.

A letter was sent from Balderas’ office on Dec. 15 to Rhodes, asking the board to submit documents related to NMVA by Tuesday.

NMVA has an educational products and services agreement with K12 Inc.

"Attorney General Balderas initiated a review of K12 Inc.’s activities in New Mexico due to concerns about the company's practices and the resulting impact on New Mexican students,” Hallinan said in an email.

Farmington schools and the Board of Education are complying fully with the investigation, Schmidt said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

Clarification: This story was modified on Jan. 18 to clarify the nature of the interaction between Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt​ and New Mexico Virtual Academy Governing Council President Cory Lee​. Lee said didn't ask Schmidt for help but informed Schmidt that it was the district's responsibility to prepare the closure plan.