New Mexico School for the Arts one step closer to dropping charter status

February 24, 2019

New Mexico School for the Arts, a state-chartered performing and fine arts high school that opened in Santa Fe in 2010, is asking the Legislature to drop its charter status and allow it to become a “special statewide residential public school,” with a superintendent and a more diverse school board.

On Friday, the school cleared its first hurdle in achieving that goal. The Senate Rules Committee voted 6-0 to approve Senate Bill 315, introduced by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, which would alter NMSA’s designation and leadership structure.

The bill now moves to the Senate Education Committee.

Among other outcomes, officials said, the change would allow leaders of the arts school to access more money for operations through the state’s per-student funding formula and capital funding from local property taxes.

“This will help them achieve their mission in a more targeted way,” O’Neill told the committee.

The Legislature in 2008 approved the creation of the tuition-free boarding charter school for students statewide in grades 9-12 who want to hone performing and visual arts skills. Rather than enrolling students by lottery, as most charter schools in New Mexico do, the arts school accepts students based on auditions and portfolios. This procedure would remain unchanged under SB 315.

The bill would require the school’s six-member governing board to transition to a nine-member public school board of education, with four members appointed by the governor. Under the bill, no more than two board members could come from any one county, a move that would increase the diversity of both the board and the student body, said NMSA Head of School Eric Crites.

While students from around the state attend the school, the majority of the 213 are from Northern New Mexico. Having board members from other areas of New Mexico will “provide a connection in other communities,” Crites said.

The board would be tasked with managing the school’s finances as well as appointing a superintendent.

The effort to change the school’s designation comes as NMSA, housed in the former St. Francis Cathedral School in downtown Santa Fe, prepares to move to a new campus at the site of the old Sanbusco Market Center in the Railyard.

After the school relocates, it hopes to increase enrollment to 300 students, Crites said.

NMSA is one of the few schools in the state created by legislative action, so any change in its designation must be approved by the Legislature.

The school has seen success since it began, earning seven consecutive A’s in state’s evaluation system. And in 2016, the U.S. Department of Education named it one of the national Blue Ribbon schools for its success in closing an achievement gap.