A showdown between two governing bodies, the town of Edgewood and the Moriarty-Edgewood School District, meant a pair of dueling meetings on the sore topic of a building on the former Edgewood Elementary School campus.
Held one after another this week, first Edgewood called a meeting to solicit input from the community at large about the fate of the old gym from Edgewood Elementary at Legacy Church. The school district held its own meeting the following night, which a quorum of Edgewood’s commission attended.
An estimated 150 people attended the town meeting at Legacy Church, while about 25 attended the school board meeting.
The showdown is centered around property owned by the school district, which the town has communicated it should turn over to ownership by Edgewood—and the jurisdictions of the two discrete political entities.
The town commission and the school board are both independent political entities made up of elected officials, but their authority doesn’t overlap. Each board has a responsibility to its constituents, and those constituencies do overlap. The rural school district covers a much larger area in terms of square miles.
Edgewood’s Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Powers said at the town’s meeting that 75% of the district’s students live in the Edgewood area and that Edgewood is underfunded as compared to Moriarty. That was a sentiment that most people who spoke during the 3-hour session agreed with.
Commissioner Kenneth Brennan said it seems that the school district wants “to erase Edgewood’s history.”
Two members of Edgewood’s commission, Mayor Audrey Jaramillo and Phil Anaya, served previously on the school board. The current superintendent, along with a previous superintendent, were both principals at Edgewood Elementary School earlier in their careers.
The Moriarty-Edgewood School District Superintendent Teresa Salazar said in an interview with The Independent that the district purchased the building from the State Land Office several years after Edgewood Elementary was built. “The administration and board at the time obviously felt that needs to be a district asset. It’s one of the best properties in our portfolio.
“We do have water rights, we have two wells on that property,” she added, saying that the wells serve not only the Edgewood Elementary campus—which in addition to the building scheduled for demolition includes other structures including the town hall and library.
She said the district owns 89 acre-feet of water rights in total. In addition, the school district owns the mineral rights on the property, according to the Patent For State Land filed in 1989 by the State Land Office, granting ownership of the property to the school district.
The district bought the property for $120,000 from the State Land Office in 1988 and hasn’t done an appraisal on it because it isn’t for sale, Salazar said.
The school district peaked out at 4,800 students in 2000-2001 but is currently about half that level of enrollment, the superintendent said. The state has requirements for total square footage of buildings owned, because even if buildings don’t have students in them they still incur costs for maintenance and insurance.
Meanwhile, Edgewood’s logic is that because the school district’s is funded by taxpayer dollars, that “we own it already,” as someone in the audience of the Edgewood meeting called out. “Not for sale? It’s ours. We own the damn thing, let’s just tell them how it is.”
Many in attendance at that meeting urged Edgewood to take the building from the school district, citing many ideas about what the building has been or could be in the future.
Ideas ranged from a commercial kitchen to pre-K (which until recently the space did include) to building a swimming pool to a multi-generational community center or emergency staging area. Most of the people who spoke lamented Edgewood’s lack of venues for larger events.
The school board clapped back, suggesting at another recent board meeting that the town should acquire property and build a community center if people think it needs one.
Powers said the town had made an offer to the school district for purchase of the property, but neither party would disclose the amount of the offer.
“We had to pay the state market value for that property,” Salazar said.
Edgewood’s commissioners also suggested that people run for the school board to take it over as they had done with the town council. “Run for the board so the town can have a voice,” Anaya said.
An architect at the meeting said “adaptive reuse” of a building is inherently conservative and sustainable, and urged “adequate market research like you’d see in a commercial endeavor” to see how that might be accomplished.
Another man, Reed Jackson, said the issue “isn’t about the community and the kids” but about governmental malfeasance and corruption on the part of the school board. Salazar told The Independent that if he had specific allegations of malfeasance or corruption to bring them forward.
At the school board meeting the following night, Jackson made no such allegation but urged the school board to “help us understand the compelling arguments” to demolish the building.
While the vast majority of the people who spoke at Edgewood’s meeting were very much like-minded in saying that the town should be able to take over the building, and that Edgewood gets short shrift from the school district as compared with Moriarty, a few dissented.
One of those was former town councilor Linda Holle, who was booed by the audience when she posed questions about whether the town had done a cost benefit analysis and saying the town should get its own house in order and deal with properties it owns that are sitting vacant, and likening it to “Putin’s land grab in Ukraine.”
Holle also questioned whether the town wanted to purchase “both buildings, the property and well.”
Another, Cheryl Huppertz, was previously on the town’s planning and zoning commission. She questioned whether the town had come up with any numbers and said, “I feel like we’re antagonizing [the school district], kind of biting the hand that feeds us. I’d like to hear the other side of the story.”
The school board voted this spring to demolish two buildings, the gym in question and the old annex building at the high school. Both are in disrepair because maintenance on them has been minimal as they’ve not been in use by students, Salazar said.
State funding to the tune of just under a million dollars is available to the school district for demolition of the two buildings, which was the factor that tipped the district toward building demolition now. Plans for demolition have been in the works for years, Salazar said.
The district will be meeting with the Public Schools Capital Outlay Council on October 11; that board has the decision-making power over the funding.
Jaramillo said the town will be represented at the meeting and are on the agenda.
An agenda item at the school board meeting October 5 designated its board president, Charles Armijo, to speak on behalf of the board until November 15, including at the PSCOC meeting. It passed unanimously.
Although the meeting had no provision for public comment, Armijo agreed to let people who attended the meeting speak during the agenda item for matters from the board members. Comments were limited to 2 minutes and several people spoke, repeating much of the rhetoric from the night before.
Armijo said he appreciated the passion of those speaking. “I’m also passionate about the issue at hand,” he said, adding that he has examined the entire process in detail.
He said the school district has a fiscal responsibility, which “is all about money,” but also a fiduciary responsibility, meaning that the beneficiaries of the board of trustees is also taken into account. Those beneficiaries are the students, he said.
Armijo also said, “I totally get the ask, and I don’t mind the ask. It’s fair and overall makes sense.”
He said that the school district has to go through a process for funding projects through Public Schools Finance Authority, of which the Capital Outlay Council is a part, saying, “That’s what schools use, the conduit for information that we receive.”
Board Vice President Elizabeth Howells said the Edgewood meeting of the night before, which she had attended, “was like a lynch mob for some people and it was a little scary,” at which she was jeered from the audience.