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Silverton School may be closed, students bused

December 23, 2001

"Closing down the school sets in motion closing down the community, and I don’t think that’s a viable option."

Dave Erickson,
Silverton town administrator

By Jennifer Reeder
Special to the Herald

Declining enrollment at Silverton School has left the future of the school uncertain.

School officials are considering a number of options, which include reducing staff to create a "one-room" high school, developing a public/private boarding school, or closing the high school and busing students to Durango or Ouray.

Superintendent Larry Ranney said administrators are carefully considering all courses of action, and will choose "the best option that meets the needs of the kids."

"The community and the school district would like to see the school remain," Ranney said. "We’re looking at that first and foremost, but not at the cost of the students’ education. But the decision to bus would be a very tough one if it should come to that," he said.

Silverton School is the town’s only school and teaches kindergarten to 12th-grade students. It employs five full-time and four part-time teachers for 62 students. About 25 students attend the high school, Ranney said.

The school receives approximately $11,000 in funding per student and in the last 15 years has lost five to eight students each year, Ranney said.

Academic counselor Kay Erickson said students have voiced concerns about the possibility of being bused to larger schools.

"The atmosphere here is more like a huge family than a school," Erickson said. She said students know each other regardless of age differences, and that at a recent assembly, she saw younger students run up to high school students, who playfully swung them around.

Her husband, Town Administrator Dave Erickson, said closing the school would have a significant economic and social impact on the community.

"People will be reluctant to move to our community if they have children," Dave Erickson said. "Closing down the school sets in motion closing down the community, and I don’t think that’s a viable option."

He said that as a parent of a 10th-grader, he would home-school his son before busing him to another community. He said the school has been "great," but that declining enrollment has negatively affected the curriculum and opportunities for the students, such as classes with students from different grades and the lack of a basketball team.

Ranney emphasized that closing down the school is not the preferred option. The administration is taking a close look at reducing the teaching staff to two or three, who would teach all subjects in one room daily. Officials are also looking into the possibility of housing potential boarding school students in local hotels rather than building dorms on campus.

Ranney said measures are also being taken to attract new people – and therefore, potential students – to the community.

Ranney said he spoke recently with a representative from San Juan 2000, a local economic development group, about applying for grants to research how to improve the school rather than close it.

Steve Fearn, president of San Juan 2000 and parent of an 11th-grader, said he is optimistic about the future of the school and expects to see an increase in the town’s population.

Fearn said enrollment in the lower grades has already begun to increase and that the high school isn’t far behind.

"The focus should be on keeping the school’s infrastructure as it is now and finding a way to pay for it because we believe it will have enough kids here in three to five years to pay for itself," Fearn said.

Fearn doesn’t want his son bused over mountain passes out of Silverton. He said the boarding school option is a nice idea but would take several years to develop.

Jenny Ader, executive coordinator for Silverton Mountain Ski Area, said the local population should increase if the ski area receives a permit that will expand services and allow for the creation of about 30 jobs.

Ader said the ski area’s Web site had averaged about 100,000 hits each month since October and that at least 53 percent of the interested people were of "family age."

"If the school will hold out and wait a little longer, the ski area will attract more families," Ader said.

The date for a final decision has not been set.

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