Charter school sought

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

Some Portales residents are proposing a charter school for the 2007-08 school year to focus on math, science, technology, and college preparation.

Joan Brown, one of the organizers, submitted a proposal Thursday afternoon to the Portales school district for the Horace Mann charter school. The school would be an extension of the district if the school board approves the proposal.

“Ultimately, Horace Mann School provides the community of Portales with a choice in education models for the middle school and high school youth,” Brown said. “HMS will provide an educational experience that is research-based, integrated, rigorous, and relevant to students that will prepare them for college. HMS will provide a small school that is focused on academics.”

Portales Superintendent Randy Fowler said a committee that will include school district staff will review the proposal.
Fowler said the proposal will then go before the school board members by the 60-day deadline so they can either approve or deny it.

“There are not necessarily some aspects that will be weighed more than others,” Fowler said. “The committee members will look at the impact of the school district as a whole.”

If the proposal is approved, a maximum of 75 students could attend the school. The school would start out with a maximum of 25 students in each grade, grades sixth through eighth.

One grade will be added per year so that by the 2011-12 school year the school would have all of the grades six through 12, according to Brown. The Horace Mann School students would also be able to play sports, be in band or theater productions at Portales High School and Portales Junior High School. By state law, charter school students can participate in extra-curricular activities at the school in their district where they would otherwise qualify to attend, Brown said.

One of the aspects which the committee will be reviewing is the financial impact to the school district. Fowler said the school district receives $3,442 per student from a student-funding formula the state has in place for all public schools. For example, if 75 students transferred from the Portales Junior High to the Horace Mann School, the school district would lose $258,150 to the charter school.

Brown said contracting the school district to provide administrative services would help offset the loss. She said the charter school hopes to negotiate a contract with the local school district for budgeting, special services like occupational, physical and speech therapy, and for food services.

“It’s impossible to determine how much of a financial impact it would be to the district at this time,” Fowler said. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’. It depends on the number of students who decide to transfer.”

“We don’t know how many students we will get per class,” Fowler said. “We believe there is enough interest since everyone we talk to sounds excited about the school. We have been talking to people about starting a charter school for about two or three years, so we have been getting this positive feedback for more than just a couple of months.

Brown said the charter school could attract students back to the Portales district that have been home-schooled or attended the small schools in eastern New Mexico.

According to a June 14 press release from the U.S. Department of Education, New Mexico was awarded a $12.3 million three-year grant to help plan, design and create new charter schools.

Brown said Mann was an influential American educator and the first Secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts. Many people consider Horace Mann the father of public education, Brown said. Brown said the charter school is not a Horace Mann franchise and does not have to teach Horace Mann curriculum.

The first U.S. public charter school opened in 1992 and today more than 3,600 charter schools serve more than a million students in 40 states and Washington, D.C., according to the release.