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Education

Board closes two elementary schools

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

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Armijo appointed to board vacancy

The Moriarty Edgewood School Board voted late Tuesday night to close two elementary schools, to add sixth grade to middle school, and appointed a new board member.

The school closure vote was 3 to 1 after a long discussion. Board president Todd McCarty, was joined by Albert Chavez and Elizabeth Howells in voting to close the schools; Audrey Jaramillo was the dissenting vote.

Mountain view Elementary School and Edgewood Elementary School will not not open for the next school year, with students to be moved to other elementary schools.

"I believe the only thing we can do is close two schools," said district superintendent Tom Sullivan, naming the two schools.

The school district is facing a $1.2 million budget shortfall for next year, and closing the two elementary schools is expected to save roughly half a million dollars.

Further savings are expected from adding sixth grade to the district's two middle schools, but even these drastic measures will only close the gap by a little more than half of the shortfall.

An advisory committee to help with the transition of adding sixth-graders to the middle schools will be formed.

About a hundred people showed up to the school board meeting held in the high school cafeteria.

Thirteen people spoke during the citizen comment portion of the meeting, including Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort and Edgewood Mayor Brad Hill.

Beffort said the East Mountain community is aging, but suggested closing only one school and seeking additional funding from the Legislature.

"As mayor, my duties are difficult," Hill said. 'You have the luxury I don't have. You only have to worry about the operational aspect." He said the narrow scope of the school board would "hurt my town" and harm the relationship between Moriarty and Edgewood.

Edgewood town councilor Chuck Ring said, "You're taking the heart of Edgewood." He said that because Edgewood Elementary School is the only elementary school within the town limits, "you're taking our piece of the pie." He brought cranberry pie to the school board members.

John Bloomberg, a member of the Edgewood Elementary school PTO said more money could be saved by closing Route 66 Elementary School.

"What happens when we start our own school district?" asked Judy Aucker, a parent of three children attending Edgewood Elementary.

Eileen Wood, a teacher at Mountain view Elementary, presented a petition to the board from students at the school, with 182 students against closing the school and one student in favor.

Another petition was presented by Jenny Knox from Mountain view with 470 signatures.

"It doesn't matter if my kid goes to Edgewood or South Mountain," said Edgewood resident Tim Fleming. "The numbers are the numbers. Try to avoid sentimentality." He said what matters the most is whether the money is going to be there for services and teachers.

Rob Adams, who has been in the district for 15 years and is now principal of Moriarty Middle School and part of the advisory committee. He thanked the board for having the courage to take this on. "This closure should have nothing to do with the school grade," he said. "It affects all the kids."

Adams got a standing ovation when he concluded, "Together we will get through this and everything will be okay."

Edgewood resident Ira Kunitz said there is a group looking into a school board recall and formation of a charter school in Edgewood.

According to the district, this school year the total number of students is 2,758. The figure was 4,722 in the 1999-2000 school year, a loss of 42 percent. That represents an estimated loss of $14 million in funding.

Budget projections for 2014-15 show an approximate $711,210 funding loss due to continued enrollment decline. The district has been using its cash reserves to run the schools.

Sullivan said based on a demographic analysis that the district may not have hit bottom on declining enrollment. "We are down 162 certified teachers," he said.

Sullivan said the district is not currently facing an "instruction crisis" but that it could become one if nothing is done financially.

"I appreciate the passion and I'm not going to tell you how to feel," Sullivan said. "But just because the outcome doesn't agree with what you want does not mean we're not listening."

Jaramillo, who was elected to the school board several years ago, after the district initially considered closure of Edgewood Elementary, expressed concerns about use of portable buildings, which are part of the capacity of the schools. Sullivan said use of portables would be minimal.

Jaramillo also said that 33 families have enrolled at

Edgewood Elementary School even though they live outside the school's boundaries and reiterated other concerns expressed by Edgewood residents.

She suggested that Route 66 Elementary School would make a good location for a CNM campus.

Immediately following the vote, the board appointed Charles Armijo to fill the vacant seat left when Matt Page resigned after being named magistrate judge. Page swore him in.



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Original Publication Date: December 18, 2013



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