Board to make Dinosaur decision

Residents of small town split on fate of school

Advertisement

Dinosaur resident Bob Puck said if Dinosaur Elementary School closes, he's afraid the town will soon follow.

He said he hopes school board members take that into consideration Monday when they vote on what to do with the school next year.

"I'm worried that without the school the town will dry up and blow away," he said. "It will affect property values, and the town's ability to attract business."

But the school's declining enrollment means less per-pupil funding from the state, which means Moffat County taxpayers will pay more money to educate fewer students.

This year the school has 20 students but Moffat County School Superintendent Pete Bergmann said projections are as low as eight students next year.

Bergmann said cutbacks will be made to staffing at the school next year regardless of what decision is made Monday.

But even with cutbacks to staffing, utility costs to keep the school running remain the same, he said.

"The utility costs are the same whether you have 70 or seven kids," Bergmann said. "It gets to a point where closing the school is the most effective use of taxpayer dollars. Does it make sense to have a building open for seven kids?"

Some projections in recent months have been as low as five students for next year.

"I don't think we can keep it open for five kids," said Moffat County School Board President Phil Hastings.

But Hastings said he has not made a decision yet as to how he will vote Monday and said he hopes to hear from more Dinosaur residents between now and then.

He said he has had six calls on the issue so far.

Five of those parents said they would like to keep the school open, while one said the board should close it, he said.

Most people he talked to said they were worried about the impact closure would have on the community.

"That's their biggest concern," he said. "That it will be the final blow to the community."

Bergmann said he will make two recommendations to the school board Monday night, one to close the school, and the other to reduce the number of grade levels taught from kindergarten through fifth grade down to kindergarten through third grade.

If that were done, he said, the school would be modeled around the one-room schoolhouse approach used in Maybell.

Since the news broke two months ago that school officials were recommending potential changes to Dinosaur Elementary School, many Dinosaur residents have taken notice.

About 20 people gathered at the Dinosaur school gymnasium last month to discuss their concerns. Bergman attended that meeting.

While some told Bergmann that closing the school should not even be an option, a few said closing it was the best decision.

Dinosaur resident Mark Tolley said in the meeting that his daughter already attended Rangely grade school this year.

After the fifth grade, students are sent to Rangely anyway, he said.

"I believe if they go to Rangely from day one, they get along a lot better," he said. "It's difficult to be a new kid in school. I want what's best for my daughter."

But some residents are making a special effort to get the word out about their concerns about a potential school closure, including a few students.

Sixth graders Mesha Perez and Richie Blakely have been passing out flyers in the community that list school board members' telephone numbers, encouraging residents to call those board members with their concerns.

The flyer reads, "Unless we all pull together, our very own Dinosaur Elementary School will be CLOSED at the end of this school year and our children will be bused to Rangely."

It also states, "If our school closes our wonderful little community will die. Every opinion counts in this decision. Every call can make a difference."

Even though sixth grader Perez is off to Rangely next year for school, she said she passed out the flyers because she doesn't want to see her current school closed.

"It's a really good school and they have really neat teachers there," she said.

But board members must decide if it is worth keeping those teachers in a building for so few students.

Hastings said it would be students over finances in the board's considerations on what to do with Dinosaur Elementary School.

"The bottom line is that, as a board, I hope we're thinking about the kids in whatever decision we make," he said. "It's not an

easy decision whatever way you go."

Bergmann said pros and cons of both proposals have been compiled and the pros seem to outweigh the cons for closing the school.

"We've had an opportunity for community input and I think we have all the facts we need," he said. "It's decision time."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.