Report ranks Farmington second worst city to raise a child

School and city officials say report does not give an adequate picture of Farmington

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Lisa Dennis plays with Ariyah Curtis, 3, at right, and son Dorian Walker, 2, center, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 at Berg Park in Farmington.
  • Physical exercise, per pupil spending and graduation rates were highlighted as reasons for the city's ranking.
  • Farmington schools superintendent highlighted achievements within the district, including score grades and proficiency.
  • City manager praises Farmington's park system.

FARMINGTON — A report released last week by 24/7 Wall St. ranks the Farmington metropolitan statistical area as the second worst city in the country to raise a child.

24/7 Wall St. is a Delaware-based company that compiles and analyzes data for financial news and opinion pieces.

Farmington Municipal Schools District Superintendent Gene Schmidt and City Manager Rob Mayes say the report does not give an accurate picture. Schmidt further questioned the methodology of the study. 

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"This site that has chosen to identify us does not know the true Farmington," Schmidt said.

In explaining why Farmington was ranked as the second worst location, the report makes three main claims about the Farmington metropolitan statistical area:

  • Residents have less access to places for physical education than residents of other communities. In the metropolitan statistical area, 36.4 percent of people have access to areas where they can exercise. 
  • Farmington Municipal School District spends far less than the national average per student. The district spends $8,616 per pupil a year, compared to the national average of $10,724.
  • Farmington has one of the lowest graduation rates of any city in the United States. Only 71.8 percent of students in Farmington high schools graduate within four years.

Mayes emphasized that the report looks at the metropolitan statistical area, which is a federal designation that includes all of San Juan County. There are a total of four metropolitan statistical areas in New Mexico. There are 366 metropolitan statistical areas in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Mayes said the reports that look at the metropolitan statistical area provide an incomplete snapshot about the city. He said Farmington is a border community and the metropolitan statistical area contains vast amounts of undeveloped land in rural areas. 

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Mayes said Farmington and the surrounding areas are great places to raise children and highlighted the city's park system and recreational opportunities.

"We've got a park system that would be an envy of many communities," Mayes said.

According to the Farmington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs' master plan, 69 percent of residents live within walking distance of at least one recreational component and 30 percent live within walking distance to a park.

In response to the 24/7 Wall St. report's claims about the school district's spending per pupil, Schmidt said the state requires districts to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on students. He said over 80 percent of the district's budget goes directly to the classroom. 

Dorian Walker, 2, plays with mom Lisa Dennis Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 at Berg Park in Farmington.

In addition, the city ranked worst  — Fairbanks, Alaska — has a district that spends about $17,969 per pupil each year. 

Schmidt also highlighted the schools' grades. Out of the district's 19 schools, 15 of them received an A or a B on the state's school grading report cards that are released annually by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

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"One doesn't get those high grades as a school unless really positive things are happening in the classroom," Schmidt said.

In the past two years, the school has seen proficiency rates in math and reading increase from 28 percent to approximately 40 percent. This increase led the New Mexico education secretary to praise the district's improvement in July.

"Thousands of lives are being impacted," Schmidt said.

He said the graduation rates are a concern that the district had recognized before the 24/7 Wall St. report was released.

Lisa Dennis plays with Ariyah Curtis, 3, and son Dorian Walker, 2, on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 at Berg Park in Farmington.

"We as a community expect more from our schools," he said.

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The district has set a goal of having an 83 percent or better graduation rate by 2020 and is inviting the community to help through a program called Mission Graduate Farmington. The program asks community members to write encouraging words to at-risk children to urge them to graduate.

"Between now and 2020, watch us grow," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.