BURLEY — Cassia County School District’s board of trustees decided Thursday to close the district’s smallest school in eight days if $21,000 in funding is not found.
The decision was made by a 3-2 vote after the board heard from from Almo residents asking to keep the school open.
Janis Durfee pleaded to keep the school open as she held a glass jar with more than $400 in donations collected at the Tracy General Store.
The amount collected by the community so far is $10,500, Sadie, Udy, community member said.
The school has 10 students in grades K-3, one teacher and one aide on staff, along with a part-time bus driver, district spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said.
Idaho has just nine schools that have 10 or fewer students.
Board members Heber Loughmiller, who represents the Almo area, and Jeff Rasmussen voted against the closure and Darin Moon, Bruce Thompson and Ryan Cranney voted in favor.
Cranney was charged with the deciding vote after the other four tied.
He sat silently for several minutes weighing the decision before voting to approve the closure.
Moon made the motion, which included language to allow the school to reopen in the future if a way is found for the school to at least break even financially.
Superintendent James Shank said the district must notify the state by the end of the month whether or not the school will be open next year.
Loughmiller said the door to reopen the school should be left open in case the school district changes boundaries.
District business manager Chris James said the school’s enrollment would need to reach 17 to get another half unit of funding from the state.
James said as “the money guy” it is hard to justify spending three to four times as much on Almo students than the rest of the students in the district just to keep the small school open. The school has been operating on a $21,000 deficit.
Almo community members suggested trying to find grant funding for the school and said the state only required that the district write a letter in order to keep the school open.
James said finding grant funding for the school’s operations is highly unlikely and he has been in contact with the state on the issue and there is no additional money available for that purpose.
Shank said the district already writes a letter each year to keep the school open, but it does not impact the funding formula.
Udy said keeping the 100-year-old school open is not just about sentimental attachment.
“It still works, it’s still serving students,” Udy said.
Durfee said the major concern for parents of students at the K-3 school is that the young children will have to spend hours a day being bused to Raft River Elementary School.
Community members are also willing to drive their children to the Almo school so the district would not have to bus them. Residents also volunteered to clean the school to cut costs, she said.
Phillip Christensen said if the school closes, his 5-year-old son will have to be on a bus for hours a day with much older students.
The community has also invested in the school through donations and Eagle Scout projects, he said.
“I’m as tender hearted as anyone, but I’m with Darin,” said Thompson, who attended the meeting via phone. “I don’t know how we can give away money every year, which keeps mounting up, to keep that small school open. I don’t see how we can keep spending money in deficit. Hard things are hard and if it was an easy decision we wouldn’t be discussing it.”
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