Education funding & teacher pay do not meet pre-recession levels, charge Yazzie plaintiffs

Brief states New Mexico students still do not have the educational opportunities they need

SANTA FE—Every New Mexico student has a constitutional right to a sufficient education, but the state still fails to provide children the educational opportunities they need, charge Yazzie plaintiffs from the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The reply brief, filed with the First Judicial District Court today, provides evidence that New Mexico public schools have less spendable funding and lower teacher pay than in 2008 when adjusted for inflation. 

“While education spending increased last year, a large portion of that money couldn’t be spent and we still haven’t caught up with 2008 levels of per student spending,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “School districts have been forced to use money meant for at-risk students to keep their doors open in the 2019-2020 school year.”

Evans added, “New Mexico also still has a severe shortage of teachers. The teacher raises and budget increase simply were not enough. It’s urgent that our state overhaul our education system. Our kids can’t wait another year.”

In the 2019 New Mexico State Legislature, school districts had raised numerous concerns that they would not be able to use much of the 16% education funding increase due to the rigid requirements on how to spend the appropriations for K-5 Plus and the Extended Learning Time Program. 

When districts allocated funds for the mandated and necessary educator raises, they did not have enough funding to provide the basic requirements for low-income, special education, English language learners and Native American students. In fact, many districts were forced to cut basic programs like reading intervention and unable to provide sufficient professional development, instructional materials, social services, transportation, and other programs and services.

However, the modest raises were still not enough to make New Mexico teacher salaries competitive with neighboring states. School districts are still seeing its teachers exit the profession and leave for better salaries. 

“Make no mistake, even if our education funding had reached 2008 levels, New Mexico would still have a long way to go to provide our kids with the education they need and are legally entitled to,” said Evans. “In 2008 our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally, and that continues today.” 

The reply brief completes the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion they filed at the end of October 2019. It asked the court to order the state to develop a plan with deadlines and funding sources to show how the state is going to bring the education system into compliance with our constitution, which guarantees all students the opportunity to be ready for college or career. 

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Mobile home park residents fight illegal fines and eviction

Residents file class action lawsuit in Second Judicial Court

ALBUQUERQUE—Residents of Aztec Village, a mobile home park in Albuquerque, came together for fairness and dignity in their community today and sued the corporate landlord and manager of the park where their homes are located. The residents charge that Nodel Parks LLC—which owns mobile home parks throughout the country, including six in Albuquerque—and park manager Magdalena Vila illegally and arbitrarily fined them for alleged infractions of community rules and threatened them with eviction when they couldn’t pay. 

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC  are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall and Adams Law. The lawsuit was filed in Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque today.

“Really, the people who live here, we are like family,” said Marlena Martinez, a longtime Aztec Village resident who helped organize residents to fight the park’s unfair practices. “Over 100 families live here, and some of us have been here for over 40 years. It’s an understatement to say that we are invested in our community. Ever since management began unfairly fining us and forcing people out of the community, we have been fighting together for our homes, our financial stability, and to stay together.”

Nodel Parks changed management of Aztec Village in May of 2019 and soon began issuing fines for violations of what the manager said were community rules. However, many of the alleged violations residents were fined for, including disposing of leaves in community dumpsters and having child toys in the front yard, were not actual violations of Aztec Village’s rules. 

Rather, the rules and fines enforced by Nodel Parks are arbitrary decisions that the lawsuit claims are used to intimidate and coerce payment from residents in violation of state law. Residents informed Nodel Parks of the problems, but upper management refused to take any action. As a result, residents are forced to pay the illegal fines and are in danger of losing their homes when they cannot pay. 

The lawsuit comes at a time when New Mexico faces a severe housing crisis. The Housing and Urban Development Department found that the state topped the nation with a rise in homelessness with a 27% increase from 2018 to 2019. Homelessness in Albuquerque alone, rose by 15%.

Mobile homes are the single greatest source of affordable housing stock in the United States.

“Landlords must follow the law and treat residents with respect. There are hundreds of communities like Aztec Park across the state, and unfair policies and practices like these push hard working New Mexican families out of their communities and onto the streets,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “When you own your home but rent the land it’s on, you are at particular risk of unfair and predatory practices by landlords. For this very reason, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Mobile Home Park Act to protect mobile home park residents.”

The state Mobile Home Park Act requires mobile home park owners to publish and enforce community rules only after soliciting comments from the community and posting responses. The law prohibits mobile home park owners from charging fines for violations of community rules and/or rental agreements. Instead, the law requires notice and an opportunity to rectify a violation. 

The families are asking the court to order defendants to stop:

  • Issuing fines for alleged or actual violations of rental agreements and/or the community rules and regulations;
  • Sending notices that threaten to evict or take further action against tenants if they don’t pay the fines; 
  • Rejecting rent from tenants if the total amount does not include any fines assessed against the tenant. 

The families are also asking the court to require the defendants to pay money damages for each instance in which the park management violated New Mexico law.

“I’m a homeowner just like any other and deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Martinez.  “We are not going to let them get away with tearing our communities apart and cheating us out of our homes.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC, include Maria Griego, Lindsay Cutler, and Sovereign Hager from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and David Adams and Charles Parnall from Parnall and Adams Law.

The complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-chavez-v-nodel-parks-llc-01-30-2020/

The exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-chavez-v-nodel-parks-2020-01-30/