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State decides Montezuma-Cortez schools will not be permitted to leave BOCES

The district found out Thursday night that the CDE did not approve their application to leave BOCES. (Sam Green/The Journal)
District had applied to leave BOCES and become their own AU earlier this year

The Montezuma-Cortez School District on Thursday received the Colorado Department of Education’s decision that the district will not be permitted to leave BOCES.

In a text Thursday night, Superintendent Tom Burris told The Journal that the letter said, “We could not make a compelling case that BOCES would subsist without us.”

In the letter from CDE provided by Superintendent Burris, the CDE provided more information on their decision to deny the application for the district to become their own AU.

In the letter, CDE Executive Director of Exceptional Student Services Paul Foster said that while the district’s application demonstrated that the AU would be able to meet the obligations needed for special education services and students, the application “did not demonstrate that the existing administrative unit (SJBOCES) would be able to continue to meet its obligations to provide special education services under state and federal law.”

The district has been attempting to leave BOCES and become its own administrative unit since this summer.

Superintendent Tom Burris

Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES, helps provide special education services to schools in its care, providing teachers, therapists and other resources. BOCES also provide support through grant funding and other initiatives.

During Burris’ report at the board meeting July 22, he spoke about the district’s efforts to withdraw from BOCES.

To qualify for a withdrawal from BOCES, the RE-1 Board of Education had to meet several state-mandated requirements. First, the board was required to have a discussion about BOCES in open session. The board also was required to sent their request to the Colorado Department of Education before Sept. 1. The board also was required to conduct a third-party audit showing what the financial impact would be on the remaining districts in BOCES.

The board also was required to provide proof that the district could run its own administrative unit and meet all state and federal requirements.

BOCES provided its input before the state board made its final decision. The other districts in San Juan BOCES include Dolores, Mancos, Dove Creek, Archuleta/Pagosa, Bayfield, Ignacio and Silverton.

Durango also was once part of the organization.

Had the Cortez board’s request been approved, the district would have become its own AU on July 1, 2024.

Parents in the Montezuma-Cortez district expressed discomfort and disappointment in the district for attempting to quit BOCES when the district announced its decision.

Speaking during citizen comments at the board meeting, one mother, who identified herself as Sarah, asked the board to reconsider its decision, saying that the loss of BOCES would negatively impact her son’s well-being.

She told the board she was frustrated that they board members had not held a public forum to hear from parents and other education experts before making the decision.

“You didn’t ask parents or seek public comment,” she said.

Another citizen said the board showed “total disrespect for teachers and kids” by not having an open discussion with those who would be affected by the decision.

“We will take care of the kids and provide the services we need,” Burris told the parents.

Board member Sherri Wright also spoke, but did not provide plans or idea of what the district would look like without BOCES. She did say, however, that she had three years of experience in special education, and she helped raise a stepdaughter with special needs.

At the end of that meeting, the District Re-1 Board of Education voted unanimously to begin the process of ending the district’s services with BOCES.

Other local districts involved in BOCES – Dolores, Mancos and Dove Creek – all expressed their concerns over what would happen to the San Juan BOCES financially should the district withdraw.