Belen Family School moves to new location

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Belen's Family School packed up and moved into its temporary new home last week on the second floor of Infinity High School.

Simultaneously, the school is expanding instructional times to two 2 1/2-day sessions with longer school days to accommodate about 60 more students and use the facility full time.

The move to IHS comes after the Belen Board of Education didn't renew its lease with the Valley Improvement Association for the building at 386 Rio Communities Boulevard, which the school has been housed since 2010.

A "drastic increase" in rental fees — from $10,242 to $87,220 a year that the district couldn't afford — is the reason behind this decision, said Superintendent Ron Marquez.

"I don't think we can absorb that this year," Marquez said. "That's the cost of a couple of teachers, probably three or four instructional assistants, three or four other employees that we can hire."

George Perea, the district's business and finance director, said this increase was not budgeted into the 2013-14 district's budget.

For the last three years, VIA has leased the 12,460-square-foot building to the district at a 77-cent per square foot rate, not the $7 per square foot rate similar buildings go for, said Paul Baca, VIA president and CEO.

But, Baca said the homeowner land association cannot afford to continue renting at a discounted rate.

In the last two years, the nonprofit association saw a drop in its revenue from $2.2 million to $375,000 annually when their members' assessments began expiring and, in some instances, are no longer collected. This placed them in financial strains and pushed them to increase rental fees, Baca said.

"We were able to help the schools, because they were in a really bad position, but I could not continue to supplement that program at that rate," Baca said.

School officials also turned down an offer of $3.50 per square foot. That also was too high, Marquez said.

More than 130 Family School parents were upset, Marquez said, when he and Family School Principal Buddy Dillow told them of the school's relocation at a June 10 school board meeting.

But once parents toured IHS, learned about the school's transition plan and how the move would change the school's procedures, they became comfortable with the idea and left "very happy," Dillow told board members at their June 11 meeting.

"We may have alleviated some of their concerns, but what they were worried about was that this was going to be a permanent fix," Marquez said. "I assured them that that was not our intent."

A few parents indicated they didn't want their children in contact "with those kids."

Board president Sam Chavez said he took personal offense with that statement, because IHS students "are probably the most dedicated students we have in the district."

"These are kids, many of whom have dropped out of school, realized the value of an education and they're working very hard to get that education … This year everyone of those graduates has plans for post-secondary education," Chavez said.

The school will use a science lab, computer lab and four classrooms within the high school, along with Belen Middle School's cafeteria, gym and fields.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.