Reporter’s note: This story has been edited for clarity.
Three New Mexico school districts addressed their processes for disposing of athletic turf after being mentioned at a Roswell Independent School District board meeting last month.
How old turf was handled in Artesia, Lovington and Hobbs was raised by Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy when questions came up about RISD’s own turf-disposal process after a renovation of the Wool Bowl.
Nearly a month has passed since information surfaced at the RISD school board meeting on Aug. 13 that Wool Bowl turf had been distributed throughout Roswell, including to McIlroy’s house.
On May 14, RISD’s school board awarded a contract for the $1 million project to replace the 11-year-old turf and track at the Wool Bowl Stadium on North Grand Avenue.
“Our contractor feels strongly that he was at liberty to dispose of the salvage by any means he saw fit, according to his contract, including giving it to community members,” McIlroy said. “We are checking this with the state auditor’s office.”
Chad Cole, RISD assistant superintendent of finance and operations, confirmed the district self-reported “for non-compliance of its own procedures, policies and of the state’s statutes concerning the disposal of Fixed Assets of Real Property.”
He said the district reported to their independent public accountants and the state auditor for potential “for further investigation and/or criminal referral, if deemed applicable.”
The superintendent said the district is still awaiting a response from the Public Education Department and the state auditor in regard to corrective action.
At the school board meeting, McIlroy said districts in Artesia, Lovington and Hobbs gave out turf to their district personnel and community members.
This was the reason she shared for thinking it was permissible for RISD to do the same thing.
John Ross Null, Artesia superintendent, was not involved in the turf removal 11 years ago, but he said his district has two turf replacements planned for this fall.
He said for both projects, the contract “calls for the contractor to dispose of the used turf.”
Lovington Superintendent LeAnne Gandy informed the Daily Record that her school district renovated their athletic fields last December. Gandy said the turf was removed and recycled as written in the contract with the company performing the work on the turf. She said Lovington did not give out their turf to employees or the community.
Gene Strickland, Hobbs’ associate superintendent, said the 13-year-old turf at Watson Stadium was replaced two years ago, in the fall. He said this “asset was carried on our books and was depreciated out showing zero dollar value.”
“… As the community became aware of the construction project and HMS plan for disposal via landfill, many members of the community desired to have the turf,” Strickland wrote in an email. “The contractor staged the turf in the stadium parking lot for disposal and would load the dumpster available until full and haul off, then a replacement was provided.
“As the turf was awaiting haul-off, members of the community did acquire pieces of the turf. HMS and its contractor did dispose of what the community did not pick up prior to our hauling it away to a landfill.
“To my knowledge, district staff did not acquire any of this useless turf.”
When the Daily Record asked for a statement from RISD after the other districts responded, McIlroy wrote: “I checked with Hobbs about the depreciation and our business office elected not to do that. Artesia put theirs in the trash and community members retrieved it from the garbage. Lovington’s contractor disposed of theirs.”
As of early this week, Juan Oropesa and Orlando Padilla, who represent the Coalition for Equity and Fiscal Responsibility, relayed that they have reached out to the school district and were left with unanswered questions for the event they have named “turfgate.”
Padilla was the community member who brought up the superintendent having turf at her home during public comment at the Aug. 13 meeting.
“We need to be told as taxpayers — the truth — about what happened,” Padilla said, and he believes there should be an investigation of the situation.
Oropesa said bringing this up was not “a personal issue” against the superintendent.
He and Padilla both said the coalition is focused on “equity and fiscal responsibility” at the school district, not allegations of racism or discrimination that were raised by some following a reshuffling of administrative personnel at the end of last school year.
“When you find out that statements are not true, you have to wonder what else has been done that we’re — the community is not being told,” Oropesa said, referring to McIlroy’s comment on Aug. 13 about the Artesia, Lovington and Hobbs districts.
The coalition members said they wanted to know on behalf of the community what happened, or will happen, to the used turf collected by the community and district staff — if it was transported and delivered by district personnel and vehicles, what the board and district plan on doing to address the issue and what the cost of the turf was.
RISD school board members did not respond by press time to questions on these topics asked by the Daily Record.
“In all likelihood, it will not entail recovery of the items since we have no way of knowing the total number of rolls claimed by community members,” McIlroy stated. “In that regard, what is done is done. The district is moving forward to ensure our internal processes are communicated thoroughly so as to avoid an error of this nature in the future.”
For the turf at her own house, McIlroy said she “paid to have it removed and disposed.”
She said none of the additional turf was returned to the school, and the district is not requiring it to be returned.
Though the question was addressed to Brian Byrd, RISD assistant superintendent of talent management, via email, McIlroy responded, writing that Byrd also collected used turf “as a community member.”
On the transportation question, Cole said there was a documented work order for the maintenance department to pick up and deliver the used turf: 10 rolls to RHS, 14 to GHS and five rolls to New Mexico Military Institute.
However, Cole said no other alleged deliveries or locations, or other quantities of turf, were documented by the school district or the contracted vendor. McIlroy added that the contractor didn’t deliver the used turf and community members “were responsible for picking up any salvage.”
Coalition members also voiced concerns about the district not following — therefore, violating — their own policies, while being paid high-level salaries through taxpayer dollars.
For the turf incident, the coalition is concerned for the school’s future bonding capacity, which could negatively “impact on our community and our schools, particularly the kids,” said Oropesa.
Special projects reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.