When the proposed Thrive Community Charter School was being presented to state officials and the community of Santa Fe, one of its more enthusiastic supporters was a homebuilder.
The executive director of Homewise, which builds affordable housing, wrote in support of the K-8 charter. Mike Loftin argued in a letter to the editor, “There is a clearly a need for more classrooms on the Southside.” Not mentioned in the letter was a possible location for the new school — in a proposed Homewise development.
To date, none of the school’s supporters have explained how a charter school — required by law to admit students by random lottery — can be set up so students come from areas where schools are overcrowded, thus easing the pressure.
The proposed school just received authorization from the New Mexico Public Education Commission and is shooting for a fall 2022 opening.
First, it will need to find a location, at least temporarily. The promised south-side address — whether in the Homewise subdivision or elsewhere — is a few years away.
We opposed the new charter, pointing out the many different sorts of schools already established through Santa Fe Public Schools that offer parents choices and variety.
Santa Fe has elementary schools with preschool offerings through fifth or sixth grades; middle schools that encompass various grade levels from sixth through eighth; K-8 schools; online education; two traditional high schools; an alternative high school; and even a 7-12 magnet school that offers international baccalaureate programs.
Additionally, Santa Fe can boast a charter elementary school that will be adding middle school grades and several other 7-12 charter schools, organized under both the state and the local district.
Each of those schools is a public school. The construction, maintenance and upkeep for these schools is rightly the responsibility of taxpayers.
This is nothing unique to Santa Fe. State-sponsored charter schools, district charter schools and traditional public schools all deserve support. At some point, though, state leaders need to ask whether spreading capital outlay dollars to build more schools and maintain more buildings is the best use of scarce state funds.
Each school is approved on its merits, one at a time. The Public Education Department and the Public Education Commission need to consider these applications in a broader context. It’s not just paying for buildings. It’s paying salaries for all the adults attached to these schools, including the all-important teaching staff. But there are other adults receiving paychecks. District charters share financial expertise at the local level, but each state charter does its own books — they essentially operate as mini-school districts, but pulling from the same funding as traditional public schools. They also threaten to dilute an already-thin pool of teachers.
And come 2022, Santa Fe will have another such mini-district if Thrive opens as planned. At some point, it will dedicate a new school building (or better yet, move into an empty school building to better use tax dollars).
That could be somewhere on the south side. Homewise clearly wants the school in its proposed subdivision, although students won’t be walking to school from the affordable housing development, at least not many of them. That’s not how charters work. Students are determined by who wins the lottery.
Those details remain to be worked out. First, the development needs to be approved, and that’s not a done deal.
Santa Fe County neighbors are upset that what they see as necessary open space is going to become housing. They’re fighting the project.
They once were promised a park. Another objection is to another school — there are three in the immediate area. Because the land has been annexed by the city, approval eventually will be up to the Planning Commission and City Council.
The Early Neighborhood Notification Process — as it is designed to do — is raising a number of questions. We encourage builders and others to ask Santa Fe Public Schools what it would need if 96 or more homes are being built, especially if nearby schools are at capacity. Maybe this development, if built, needs a neighborhood school rather than a charter that can turn students away who live next door.
Affordable housing is desirable. Building on open spaces in existing neighborhoods means less sprawl. But losing a green space might be too great a sacrifice for neighbors. These are early days. Pay attention, ask questions and look for common ground.