New Mexico Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa, Fe, NM 87501
RE: Taos International School charter application
Public Education Commission—
I am writing in opposition to the charter school application for Taos International School (TIS) based on three major components: 1.) Lack of need in the community, 2.) Economic damage to the existing school system and community at large, and 3.) Flaws in the actual charter school application submitted.
1.) Lack of need :
There currently exists an active and highly regarded Dual Language Immersion program in the Taos Public Schools. I am the parent of a 3rd grade student enrolled in the Dual Language program at Enos Garcia Elementary School and am thrilled at the level of success my child has achieved. The Dual Language Program has recently expanded into all three non-charter public schools (Arroyos Del Norte and Ranchos Elementary) to accommodate current and future demand. The existing program has garnered positive, national attention including a seminar devoted to the Taos program as a model at the 2011 La Cosecha Conference on Dual Language Education, presented by Nadine Vigil, applicant for the TIS. The existing program is 8 years old and continues to adjust to meet the desires of the educational community and the students. Continuation into the middle school grades has always been on the agenda and continues to be a regular point of discussion for long range planning. Students in the greater Taos area already have many options for school including Taos Integrated School of Arts, Taos Charter School, Anansi Charter School, Taos Academy, Country Day School, and others, negating the argument that Taos lacks options or needs an additional option. The applicants have stated that Mandarin Chinese will be a mandatory language for their International Bachelorette program due to the large Asian community in Taos—the 2010 Census for the Town of Taos shows a population of 5716, of which 0.62% is Asian. This hardly constitutes “need” in comparison to the 5.3% Native American population with its own language and heritage not being served by independent programs. Lastly, Enos Garcia Elementary recently hired Dr. Gladys Herrera-Gurule’ as its new principal. Dr. Gurule’ is widely regarded as one of the top minds in Dual Language Education and has worked at the highest levels of the NM PED in Dual Language curriculum development for many years—the existing Dual Language Immersion program in the Taos public elementary school likely has the most experienced administrator with greatest level of expertise in Dual Language in the state.
2.) According to the 2010 Taos Census, the average per capita income level is $15,983 and 23.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. Taos Public Schools already face an uphill battle for funding as well as an existing watered-down economic platform with numerous elementary school options (charter schools) siphoning from the funding pool. Granting of the TIS charter would again duplicate the expenses per student and lessoning the dollar amount towards actual education for every student in the district. Giving credit to Dual Language Education philosophy and some of the ideas in the TIS charter application, it is mathematically absolute that it would be better—economically—to implement the program ideas into the existing schools rather than duplicating the expenses of facilities, administration, maintenance, food service, etc. Those costs are already paid for in the existing schools; we do not need to pay for them again by taking students and the funding assigned to them to another campus. Furthermore, demographics indicate that the proliferation of charter schools in Taos (with a population of around 6000) has segregated the socio-economic classes in the schools, with more affluent, typically more engaged parents clustering in charter schools and removing the asset of Taos’ rich cultural and economic diversity from the public school system. The aspirations of the TIS applicant’s International Bachelorette program do not appear to attempt to service a representative cross-section of our community culturally or socio-economically, further segregating our community as a whole.
3.) The TIS application should be denied based on numerous flaws in its budget and process. First, the application states it will require proof of citizenship for student admission—which is illegal. Secondly, the budget accounts for no dollars associated to students for IEP/Special Education needs, which are also required by law. In the PEC hearing before the TIS applicants, they could not answer how they would (completely) pay for the rent on the facility. They had not accounted for any expenses associated to custodial or maintenance services, nor water or sewage. The applicants have claimed they will hire only bi-lingual certified, highly qualified teachers, able to out-compete current public school teachers for students, but only account for $40,000 in salary per teacher—according to teachersalaryinfo.com the current average teacher salary for an elementary teacher in the Taos Public Schools is $49,800. And, with the halt to federal funding subsidies, the applicants claim to be waiting for private donations in the amount of $800,000 for their facility start-up costs. These aspects of the application demonstrate lack of sufficient planning, lack of appropriate knowledge of operations and legal requirements and should, on their own merit, be grounds for denial of the application.
It is obvious that a lot of effort and good intentions have gone into the idea of TIS, but I do not believe that the best ideas of the program are best achieved through this charter school application.