Board, patrons debate closing

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RANGELY — What a difference a year makes. Or six months.
“We look back at September and we had over 40 new students, we were looking at a bond issue, oil was over $100 a barrel and things looked good,” said Matt Scoggins, Rangely School Board president. “Wow, how things have changed.”
To deal with the economic changes affecting the district, School Board members invited the public to give its input at an informational meeting March 10.
Before hearing from residents, Scoggins outlined the challenges facing the district.
“Where we’re at, with the changes from last year, we’re looking at a deficit budget going into next year from $500,000 to $700,000,” Scoggins said. “We’re having to look very closely at how we can cut expenditures.”
One option the board is considering for cutting costs is closing Parkview Elementary — the oldest building in the district, built in 1978 — and combining kindergarten through sixth grades at the middle school and seventh through 12th grades at the high school.
Shutting down a school would not be an easy decision, Scoggins said.
“I live across the street from Parkview,” he said. “I have no desire to see that (school closed), from a personal standpoint. But we have to look out and see what is in the best interests of our students. We’re all in this together.”
Last week’s public meeting was for informational purposes only. Superintendent Dwayne Newman said no decisions would be made that night.
“Our purpose is to gather information, to get feedback and ideas on what we can do to address the budget situation in which we find ourselves,” Newman said. “It is not a meeting where a decision is going to be made. Any decision about a major change of direction in the district will occur March 23 at a board meeting.”
Newman also used last week’s public meeting as an opportunity to dispel rumors and to stress the board has not made any final decisions.
“We have given options and ideas and gotten feedback, but no decisions have been made,” Newman said. “We are not, at this point, discussing any staffing reductions. We are not, at this point, talking about laying folks off. We are not, at this point, talking about sending all of our juniors and seniors up to the college. There has been no discussion about cutting the baseball program, specifically. So, if you have heard anything about this is a done deal, or that’s a done deal, that is not the case.”
However, Newman said the board has directed the staff to consider all options for cutting costs.
“Everything is to be looked at from an efficiency standpoint,” Newman said. “The district cannot solve this financial situation by saving a few thousand dollars here and a few thousand dollars there. We’re not going to save enough money by buying fewer pens and pencils to solve a $500,000 deficit.”
The cost-cutting idea that has generated the most buzz in the community is the possible closing of Parkview.
“I don’t want to see us go down to two schools, for more reasons than just sentimentality,” said businessman Rodger Polley. “If we are going to look at things that are going to be forward-thinking, the community has to figure out some way to fund our schools, better.”
One building Polley would like to see the school district unload is the Early Education Center, which formerly housed the preschool and administrative offices, but was closed in 2004 for financial reasons and is now leased office space.
“We definitely need to get rid of the EEC building,” Polley said. “We closed it four years ago with the thought we were going to save money for the district. I am opposed to the fact that my school tax money is going to prop up private real estate. There needs to be a plan to get rid of it. We need to auction it off, or do something. That’s going to be a huge loss to the district’s balance sheet, but it’s a loss.”
Polley said Rangely has always prided itself on its schools and educational quality.
“I just think Rangely ought to stand up, and we ought to have this one thing,” Polley said. “It’s been the crown of our community. It’s been that way for 50 years, and we ought to fight to make it that way continually.”
Bill Laster, who handles building and grounds maintenance for the Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Recreation and Park District, said if closing Parkview was deemed to be in the best interests of the school district, it should be shut down.
“If I understand what’s been said at previous board meetings, even if you put money in that building, it is still short term,” Laster said of the condition of the school’s physical structure. “Apparently, it doesn’t have a long future. Somewhere down the line, you’d be looking at the same situation.”
Laster said he thought consolidating schools could work.
“I think the high school and the middle school can handle the student population,” Laster said. “What should come first and foremost is the education of our children. But you need to provide the education that your budget allows, because that’s all you’ve got.”
Tim Webber, director of the Western Rio Blanco Metropoli-tan Recreation and Park District, said the various taxing entities in the community needed to work together.
“We need to set aside that (attitude of) ‘I’m the school board,’ or ‘I’m the rec district,’ or ‘I’m the town council,’ or ‘We’re the college’ … and start scratching each other’s backs,” Webber said. “Let’s think outside of the box. If it’s going to help our kids, if it’s going to help our community, let’s do it.”
Webber said he could understand why the board would consider shutting down Parkview, for economic reasons.
“It makes sense to close buildings,” Webber said. “The same guy who built the rec center (which is currently undergoing a $7 million renovation), built Parkview. So what kinds of structural problems do we have there?
“I don’t envy you guys one bit,” Webber said. “It’s a tough situation for the board. But we have to be creative and figure out how we can make our community better … and get this done for our community.”
Charleen Brown, a Rangely native, said she feels strongly about the community’s school system.
“All three of my children went through the Rangely school system, and four of my five grandchildren are in school in Rangely,” she said. “Our kids and this community come first.”
Having lived through the ups and downs of past economic cycles, Brown said she could empathize with the challenges facing the school district.
“I’ve seen a lot of booms, and a lot of busts in my time in Rangely,” Brown said. “I know what horrible economic times can do to a budget. But we have to live within the constraints of our budget.”
Brown, who is manager of the Rio Blanco Schools Federal Credit Union, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, said the district needed to work with other groups to look for creative ways to address its financial problems.
“We’d be willing to work with the administration and the school board,” Brown said. “We’re willing to sit down and see what we can do to help.”