The Montezuma-Cortez school board voted Wednesday night to close Manaugh Elementary School but delay closing Pleasant View Elementary School until 2023.
The delay of the Pleasant View closure gives parents and residents time to create a charter school at the site. Pleasant View residents requested more time during an informational meeting at the elementary school Tuesday night, and board member Sherri Wright proposed the delay as a compromise, she said.
“I’d really like to compromise where I can,” she said. “And I’m looking at this, and I heard what you said.”
The vote to close Manaugh effective July 1 was unanimous, while the amended resolution to close Pleasant View in a year saw a 4-2 vote, with board members Layne Frazier and Ed Rice dissenting. Board member Cody Wells was absent.
News of the two possible closures came Monday, when Re-1 interim Superintendent Tom Burris announced the emergency board meeting would be held Wednesday, and the two community meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
Manaugh’s closure was considered because of the campus’ deteriorating building and 18 critical staffing vacancies, Burris said Monday night’s meeting at Manaugh Elementary School. Now that Manaugh is closing, students will be redirected to neighboring sites – about 60% of the school’s 229 students will transfer to Mesa Elementary School and 40% will head to Kemper. Parents of Towaoc students enrolled at Manaugh may choose the school their children will attend, although there may be some limitations, Burris said Wednesday.
The biggest priority for Manaugh is redrawing boundary lines and alerting parents where their students will go, Burris said.
“They will take the size of the school into account, they will take diversity into account,” Burris said, noting that he has reached out to someone to possibly redraw the lines. The district will work to make classroom sizes approximately even, with fewer than 24 students per classroom.
All teachers and staff members are guaranteed a district job, administrators at the meeting said. Most will be offered lateral moves; for example, moving a second grade teacher to another second grade post, said Jim Parr, Re-1’s executive director of student academic services.
Board secretary Stacey Hall said the decision to close a school was not easy, but staffing shortages and poor building conditions presented safety issues for students.
“It’s not something that any of us take lightly,” Hall said. “The most important thing that I see is the safety of these kids.”
The discussion of Pleasant View’s closure was more emotional. The school was built in 1955 and had signs of “past and current moisture intrusions” throughout, leading to denigration of the wood frame and sheathing, according to an engineering report in late January.
If the school were remodeled, it would need to be brought up to current state code, including expensive upgrades such as sprinkler installations and a new electrical system, Burris said Tuesday at the meeting at Pleasant View Elementary School. One estimate found that a rebuild of the elementary school would cost about $2.1 million, he said.
Pleasant View students would be relocated to Lewis-Arriola Elementary School. Teachers at the elementary school would be guaranteed a district job, Burris said.
At Tuesday night’s community meeting in Pleasant View, parents and community members urged the three board members present to give them more time to find funds or develop an alternative plan to the closure.
“I think the consensus of all of us in this room is just give us some time,” said Glenna Oliver, a Pleasant View paraprofessional and grandmother. “We’re a great community. We’re not scared of work or fundraising or writing grants or anything else.”
Wright’s proposal Wednesday night to delay the Pleasant View closure until June 1, 2023, came from a desire to give the community that time while trying to keep the roughly 30 enrolled students safe.
Starting a charter was proposed as an option in part because charters are not held to the same set of regulations that guide regular public schools, Burris said. Charters also have access to other funds. If Re-1 tackled the Pleasant View remodel, a voter-approved bond would be required, with uncertain election results.
If the community formed a charter school, the district sign the school building over to them, Wright said.
District staff said they would assist Pleasant View community members in establishing and supporting a charter school.
“We have obviously other charter schools in our district. We have Battle Rock, Kiva and SWOS,” Parr said. “But at the end of the day, these are all children of Montezuma County.”
He cautioned, though, that once a school becomes a charter, fiscal responsibility and accountability shifts to the new school leaders.
Three Pleasant View community members were present for the decision.
“It’s a little overwhelming – and I’m only speaking for myself – to think of starting a charter school,” said Jennifer Lanier.
She added that she wanted assurance that the district could legally sign over the building to the Pleasant View community.
Board President Sheri Noyes said that they hadn’t planned to shut down Pleasant View at the beginning of the year, but then they were hit by some “hard facts” about the building’s safety. They also had a duty to be fiscally responsible, she said.
“I love our rural schools,” Noyes said. “I love them. I love all our schools. I don’t want to shut down any schools at all.”