Even though each student will be costing the Rio Rancho Public Schools $14,000 to teach this coming school year through the innovative SpaRRk Academy headquartered at Joe Harris Elementary, all five members of the board of education voted Monday evening to keep the program alive.

Enrollment had dropped 50 percent, noted Elementary School Improvement Officer Jenna Chenault – from 207 students in grades K-5 in the 2021-22 school year to an expected 98 students for 2022-23.

The concern is funding the program,” Chenault told the board, which earlier this year authorized a budgetary expenditure of about $1.36 million. “Two-hundred students would justify it,” she noted.

Board President Amanda Galbraith told the board there were 11 public comments, all in favor of retaining the virtual-learning program for the coming school year, and two concerned parents – Ashley Daniels and Erica Inman – addressed the board in person.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland cautioned the board before and after the unanimous vote to keep SpaRRk alive: “The bottom line is money is very tight,” she said. “There will be some things that will have to go. … We have a limited budget and hard decisions have to be made.”

The previously approved budget had based that $1.36 million allotment for the program based on enrollment of 200 students.

Board member Jessica Tyler, who made the motion to keep the SpaRRk “burning,” said the board made the commitment because it had approved the budget.

In other board matters:

  • Rio Rancho High School tennis players Sam Baltz and Kate Segal were applauded for winning the first state championship on the court this spring, teaming to win the girls’ doubles title; and the Cleveland High boys track team, claiming its sixth consecutive state championship – and ninth in the past 10 seasons.
  • The board voted 5-0 to retain Southwest Food Excellence for what will be a second year, for food services, which prepares and serves breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks and associated prices for students.
  • Awards were approved for several contracts for asphalt paving, thus basically having a general contractor on demand; having architectural services on demand and having a painting contractor on demand. Michael Madrid, purchasing director, said multiple contractors were sought “for flexibility,” for one reason, as well as often obtaining better prices and being able to fit into contractors’ schedules.
  • The third annual contract with district lobbyist Cris Balzano of Balzano Government Relations, working for RRPS since August 2019, was approved, although, due to state law, the contract will have to go out to bid before the 2023-24 school year.
  • Board member Gary Tripp was selected to represent RRPS, the third-largest school district in the state, on the board of the New Mexico School Board Association. Jeffery Morgan had been serving as an at-large member representing RRPS, but due to his work volume and work-related travel, said he’d like to “pass the baton.”

The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for June 27 at 5:30 p.m. in the board room of the district offices, 500 Laser Road.