The night before the Montezuma-Cortez school board votes on possibly closing Manaugh and Pleasant View elementary schools, interim Superintendent Tom Burris met with parents and staff on the Pleasant View campus to discuss some of their options.
Tuesday night’s gathering came the day after Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 met with parents and staff at Manaugh. About 50 members of the Pleasant View community turned out to listen to the plan and express their concerns – many of which revolved around the short turnaround before the decision was set to be made.
“It’s a really big decision,” said parent Jennifer Lanier. “It feels like this shouldn’t be decided this week.”
Pleasant View was a prospect for closure because the facility was significantly outdated and out of compliance with state code, Burris said. One estimate from about five years ago found that a building remodel would cost about $2.1 million, he said.
“I’m not here to tell you I want to close the building,” Burris told the meeting’s attendees. “I’m not here to tell you I don’t. I’m here to tell you that there’s going to be a financial question that comes up about this building. That we need to figure out.”
All staff members will still be employed, regardless of the decision, Burris said.
If the board votes to close Pleasant View, students would be relocated to Lewis-Arriola Elementary School. Lewis-Arriola has space for all Pleasant View students, although it would mean larger classroom sizes of about 25 students, said Angie Sauk, principal of both Lewis-Arriola and Pleasant View elementary schools.
However, she would hold off on accepting new open enrollment students from outside the new boundary line until August, when they can determine whether there was adequate space.
Lewis-Arriola’s facility has an additional classroom that can help house the additional Pleasant View students, Sauk said.
Similarly, the closure of Manaugh is being considered because of the campus’ deteriorating building and 18 critical staffing vacancies, Burris told community members at Monday’s meeting. If Manaugh is closed, 60% of the school’s 229 students would transfer to Mesa Elementary School and 40% would head to Kemper. Parents of Towaoc students enrolled at Manaugh could choose which school their children would attend, according to Burris.
These two prospective closures come after the board, district officials, and community members met for three days of strategic planning earlier in June, and also come amidst a district and nationwide shortage of educators. As of June 21, there were nearly 50 staffing vacancies throughout the Re-1 district, representing about 12% of the district’s current workforce.
Pleasant View’s prospective closure, though, was cited as a facility issue. According to a facility report by Wilson Structural Engineering, conducted in late January, the Pleasant View school building had been built in 1954-55, and had signs of “past and current moisture intrusions” throughout.
“That is probably causing widespread unseen wood denigration reducing the strength of the framing/sheathing,” states the report, which Burris brought to the meeting.
If the school was remodeled, it would need to then be brought up to current state code, which is what was leading to the high cost. Sprinklers would need to be installed and the electrical system upgraded – Pleasant View’s current building has a 100-amp breaker, which Burris called “way substandard.”
Another alternative to the Pleasant View closure would be to establish a charter school there, allowing them to circumvent some of the state regulations, Burris said.
“The charter schools have a different set of rules than the public schools,” he said.
Community members at Tuesday night’s meeting felt that the decision was being made hastily. Many argued that they were willing to take action and apply for grants in order to preserve Pleasant View as it is, but said they needed more time.
“The main thing is if there is some action to be taken, this community will do their best to take some action,” said Kami Oliver, whose children attended Pleasant View. “Please don’t just shut the doors.”
Lanier, who currently has three children at Pleasant View, spoke to the place of the elementary school within the community.
“It is a special place,” she said. “We have over the years shown that this is a high-performing school. And not just academically. These kids are thriving here. And it’s a part of the community.”
Pleasant View paraprofessional and grandmother Glenna Oliver spoke directly to the three board members present.
“I think the consensus of all of us in this room is just give us some time,” Oliver said. “We’re a great community, we’re not scared of work or fundraising or writing grants or anything else.”
“Once we’re closed, we’re closed,” she added.
Board members Sherri Wright, Sheri Noyes, and Ed Rice all said they had listened to the community and would take the conversation back to Wednesday’s meeting.
The emergency school board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the district’s administration office at 400 N. Elm St. in Cortez.