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District opts to close Almo Elementary School due to budget constraints
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District opts to close Almo Elementary School due to budget constraints

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Almo Elementary School.

Almo Elementary School

ALMO — One of the smallest schools in the state will not reopen in the fall.

With just eight students expected next year, Almo Elementary School is the Cassia County School District’s smallest school and is one of just nine schools in Idaho with 10 or fewer students.

The school board considered closing the school last year, but the community quickly raised $21,000 to keep it open for another year. But the board voted Thursday to close the school this year due to low enrollment.

District business manager Chris James said Almo Elementary School’s annual budget was $130,000.

The school, which had students from kindergarten through third grade, had one teacher — who will be reassigned to Raft River Elementary — one aide and a part-time bus driver.

Lunch was brought into the school.

James said the district will continue to monitor student enrollment in the next year or two to see if it goes up and continue to maintain the building for the time being, although the district is anticipating student enrollment numbers to drop across the district in 2020-2021.

District spokeswoman Debbie Critchfield said the district has talked about closing the school for about 25 years.

The motion was made without discussing the pros and cons of keeping the school open because circumstances had not changed since the same discussions were held last year, she said.

“The board is sympathetic to the overall impact it will have in the community,” said Critchfield.

James said a 1% decrease in state funding hit the district in May and represented $300,000. The district has also been informed that state funding will be decreased 5% for the coming year.

“I feel so embarrassed and guilty,” said Almo resident Janis Durfee, who has a first-grade grandson who would have attended the Almo school in the fall.

She has another grandchild who is a preschooler in the community.

Durfee helped lead the campaign to raise the money to keep the school open last year and many people in the Almo community and around the Magic Valley generously donated to the cause.

She feels frustrated that the district made no effort to let people in the community know beforehand so they could speak during the board meeting and said the district did not give them an opportunity to see if they could cut costs at the school to keep it viable.

“They blamed it on COVID,” she said.

Durfee said the enrollment numbers would have to reach 17 students for the school to reopen.

She said the youngest children in the community will now have to leave on a school bus at 6:30 a.m. and won’t be home until 5 p.m. unless their parents spend two hours a day taking and dropping off their children at Raft River Elementary School.

Critchfield said the district is working on a plan to have a centralized pickup and drop off bus location for the Almo children, so they will not have to be on the buses for so long.

The district also considered not replacing the principal at Raft River Elementary School because of budget constraints, but decided to make the hire, she said.

The district’s board passed a $56 million budget on Thursday, with a $38.5 million general fund. The general fund was down nearly $260,000.

The district’s contingency fund, which had decreased to $98,444 in fiscal year 2019-2020, came in at $113,151.

“The contingency fund is in better shape than it was a year ago, but it’s still not where it should be,” James said.

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