Dinosaur school could face extinction

Declining student numbers puts facility's future in question

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Dinosaur Elementary School may only have 10 students next fall -- half the number it has this year.

The projections have school officials discussing how a facility with so few students should be staffed -- and whether it is even necessary to have a school there in the future.

"We're at a stage where we need to have some serious discussion about what to do for Dinosaur next year," said Moffat County School Superintendent Pete Bergmann at a Monday board of education meeting.

If projections are accurate, staff will have to be cut from the school next year because of the declining numbers, including a teacher and secretary.

A projected budget was provided Monday on what it would cost the district to continue to run the school next year with the decreased enrollment.

This year, revenues for the district were about $170,000 because of the $5,400 per-pupil funding districts receive for students, and the $47,000 it receives for the

school being in a small-attendance area.

Total expenditures at the school are about $230,000, meaning it's costing taxpayers about $60,000 to keep the school going.

With the proposed cutbacks in staffing next year, the cost to run the school would still be at about $60,000.

But Bergmann said the district must consider whether those 10 students will receive the best possible education with the reduced staffing.

"The education of the kids is what we need to focus on right now," Bergmann said.

The declining enrollment numbers next year are a result of students' families moving away from Dinosaur, four sixth graders graduating from the school and no preschoolers coming in and students whose parents have chosen to send their children to school in Rangely.

The number of students living in Dinosaur already going to school in Rangely has school officials considering whether all students should be sent there.

When students complete the sixth grade at Dinosaur Elementary School they move on to attend Rangely schools.

Another question asked during the meeting was why those students who attend Dinosaur Elementary School should be aligned with Moffat County School District goals when, ultimately, they all end up in the Rangely school system, which is in Rio Blanco County.

Several recommendations on what to do with the school were presented by Dinosaur Elementary School Principal Julie Baker, who has other responsibilities in the Moffat County School District, but makes the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Dinosaur once a week.

One option is to narrow the number of grade levels taught at the school, including preschool through fifth grade, preschool through third grade, first through third grade and first through fifth grade.

Another recommendation was to close the school next year and another was to keep the school open for preschool through fifth graders next year, knowing that the school would shut down in 2004/2005.

If the school were to close, Bergmann said the Rangely School District could handle the increased number of students.

But several issues need to be researched before a decision is made to bus the students to Rangely, including who would be responsible for busing those students -- Rangely or Moffat County -- and whether district boundaries could be redrawn so the students are in the Rangely School District.

Baker said it's difficult to provide a definite recommendation because the number of students at the school changes by the day.

The district has lost seven students in two weeks. Some transferred out of the district and one preschooler is staying at home.

Projections for next year's enrollment ranged from six to 10 students Monday.

Board member John Wellman, who admitted that closing the school almost seemed like a "slam-dunk" decision, said he was still concerned about the proposed shutdown.

"If we close it down, we're eliminating a choice for the parents and they are taxpayers of Moffat County," Wellman said. "We preach about local control but we're making a decision for people in our district who aren't getting much representation."

An opportunity for Dinosaur residents to be represented will be provided next month, when the school board holds its monthly meeting in Maybell.

What to do with Dinosaur Elementary School will be an action item on the agenda.

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

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