NM Charter Schools Lack Sufficient Traffic Safety

First, as a retired Albuquerque Public Schools teacher, allow me to pass along the non-transportation related sentiments of myself and the many K-12 education friends/colleagues I know still working in APS.

Dear taxpayers living within the APS taxing authority: Thanks for nothing. Go fuck yourselves.

That out of the way and returning to Better Burque’s typical emphasis on transportation issues, let’s explore another aspect of how APS is poorly treated, this time, again, relative to local charter schools, both APS and State/Public Education Department chartered institutions.

Having made the solemn vow some time back to NEVER write about K-12 education again, I will eschew the temptation to wade into the turbulent, bloody waters of the Public v. Public Charter School Wars. All I’ll say is that I have friends on “both sides.” I’ve worked gigs at straight-up APS public schools and at charters. Full disclosure: I currently do a bit of work at an APS-chartered school down here in the South Valley.

All that said and again eschewing wading into the violent depths, I will merely add that New Mexico public charter schools have unfair advantages over traditional public schools, and that these advantages extend to how students get to and from school.

What am I talking about?

I’m still in an early research stage in terms of fully understanding the situation (and would love to hear from those who know more), but New Mexico charter schools essentially have no formal responsibility or obligation regarding the safety of kids getting to and from school. There is no section in original charter applications or subsequent charter renewals requiring any sort of “traffic plan.”

To look at just one example, here’s the 529-page 2016 PED charter renewal report for Mission and Achievement Success (MAS) Charter School on Yale Blvd. a bit north of Gibson Blvd. In searching the entire 529 pages, below are the only mentions of the word “safety” and one of only two mentions of the word “transportation” in the whole report:

School Environment—Assurances
a. X Yes ☐No The school maintained an Educational Occupancy (E-Occupancy) certificate for its facilities over the past four years? Include a copy of the E-Occupancy certificate as an appendix.
b. X Yes ☐No The school keeps records of fire inspections and other safety requirements.
c. X Yes ☐No The school meets transportation and nutrition requirements, if applicable.
d. X Yes ☐No The school complies with health and safety requirements.
e. X Yes ☐No The building, grounds, and facilities provide a safe and orderly environment.

Yeah. A Yes “X” for fire and “other safety requirements” and “The school meets transportation…” That’s it. There’s no section on a traffic plan, nothing about pick-up/drop-off procedures, not a word about pedestrian safety improvement on surrounding busy streets. The only other mention of “transportation” pertains to a small budget item regarding student field trips.

In short, nothing.

The reasons for this are many, going back to decisions regarding placement of public schools ages ago. Take a look at where APS schools are located. Elementaries are almost all on residential streets; middle schools, unfortunately, are fairly often on busier streets; and, high schools tend to be on the Montgomery, San Mateo, Coors Boulevards of the City. Parking, pick-up/drop-off and other reflections of school/district traffic plans can be seen illustrating attempts at increased school safety.

To pick just one such improvement, here’s the bike/ped bridge over Gibson Boulevard to make getting to Kirtland Elementary School safer:

kirtland elementary bridge

A rare case, Kirtland, both in that it’s an elementary on a busy stroad and that it has such a bridge, but accurate as illustration of what APS (and the City) have done to make getting to and from school safer. These measures include the City paying for crossing guards at APS elementary schools. In the horrific wake of 12-year-old Eliza Almuina being killed at Louisiana and Natalie (Cleveland Middle School) last year, a task force has, I’ve been told, just about wrapped up its work toward recommendations for improvements near schools around the city. Those recommendations should be going to the City Council this Spring.

In contrast, let’s head a bit west on Gibson Blvd., turn north and look at the intersection of Yale Blvd. and Ross SE, location of MAS Charter School:

mas wait

Uh, good luck kid standing in the median. Watch out for that Volvo station wagon turning right from Ross, not to mention one of the ~10,000 drivers a day we see in the extreme bottom left of this Google Streeview grab.

Good luck. No flashing beacon, No HAWK signal. Just a walking sign (yellow) and some crosswalk striping that drivers going 40 mph (posted) barely even notice.

The safety problem at MAS is common for charter schools in Albuquerque, as many are housed at old business offices, strip malls, etc. along busy roads like Yale Boulevard. The problem is compounded at successful schools such as MAS, whose enrollment has dramatically blossomed. The brave pedestrian in the screengrab above is very likely walking to MAS after having parked across Yale, as there are far too few parking spaces adjacent to the school. As BB understands it, there is a steady stream and first bell/last bell rush of students and parents doing the same, parking/idling across Yale and collecting the lucky kids who make it across the street.

This is, of course, stupid and injury/death (most likely death at a posted 40 mph) waiting to happen, yet MAS is apparently under no legal obligation to provide the necessary safety remedies and physical plant improvements that would mitigate this stupid situation. MAS will renew its charter in 2021, and, as of now, there are no requirements that MAS and other charters prepare any traffic safety plan to APS, the City, or NM Public Education Department/Public Education Commission.

This is both unfair and, more importantly, highly dangerous.

Once again reaching the turbulent shores of the NM public school v. public charter school wars, I’ll just vaguely state that there are many reasons for the current reality concerning the lack of traffic safety at several Burque charter schools. Achieving equity and equal safety between traditional public schools and charters will involve going up against the very real and very influential NM charter school lobby, whose members include many who sit in the Legislature and other positions of political power.

To use the policy parlance, this will be “a heavy lift.” The sad truth is that the “lifting” would seem to ease only if a young person is killed at such a crossing, as in the case of Eliza Almuina. That said, such a sad truth makes the heavy lifting even more vital; as I find out more, readers are encouraged to do the same. Perhaps we can change this unfair and highly dangerous situation before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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