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COCSD board could close two schools
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 00:00

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District students and their families will soon receive notices informing them two schools, Tavasci Elementary School and Oak Creek School, are likely to be closed for the 2011-12 school year due to an anticipated $1.5 million budget shortfall.

Young demonstrators, from left, Hunter Cowgill, 5, Faye Richey, 10, and Ethan Cowgill, 5, protest against the potential closure of Oak Creek School before the start of a Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District work session and board meeting Jan. 11. The school board decided to send out 30-day  notifications to those directly affected by the possible closure of both OCS and Tavasci Elementary School as a way to close a $1.5 million budget gap.The COCSD Governing Board voted unanimously Jan. 11 to send out the notices in anticipation of a legal process that requires at least one public meeting 30 days before the board officially votes to close, Superintendent Barb U’Ren told the board.

The vote came after a standing-room-only work session just before the regular meeting where the impact of the closures was quantified by Financial Director David Snyder.

“We don’t want to solve the problem tonight,” Snyder said. “We want to identify some possible savings.”

Closing the schools would result in a total savings of roughly $734,000, which includes approximately $382,000 in administrative support staff cuts, $270,000 in plant maintenance cuts and $81,000 in utility cost savings, Snyder said.

Another $200,000 could be saved if the district decides against offering all-day kindergarten, which would mean four fewer teachers.

Even after the district consolidates both schools into Dr. Daniel Bright, Cottonwood Elementary and Cottonwood Middle schools, the expected budget shortfall will still be more than $700,000, Snyder said.

Consolidation would probably result in the loss of one teaching position, taking the district’s total number of teachers from 78 to 77. Other staff cuts are likely depending on how much more must be cut from the budget following consolidation, U’Ren said.

For example, closing the schools means the district would need fewer principals for a savings of $28,000. A reduction in the number of secretaries would save $80,000, Snyder said.

Board members expressed concern about the ability of the three remaining schools to accommodate the consolidation.

Cottonwood Elementary School would struggle the most to accommodate added students and would operate at 100 percent of capacity in the event consolidation is approved. Dr. Daniel Bright and Cottonwood Middle schools would weather consolidation in better shape with some room left over, U’Ren said.

Even so, the teacher-to-student ratio would be maintained in accordance with the board’s recommendations. In kindergarten through second grade, classroom size would not exceed 22 students. In grades three through five, classroom size would not exceed 25. Grades six through eight would have 26 students per class on average, Snyder said.

“I know how emotional and difficult this is for people in the audience to hear these conversations,” U’Ren said. “And I know how emotional and difficult it is for board members to have these conversations.”

Prior to the work session, about a dozen protesters held up handmade signs, chanted, “Save Oak Creek School,” and beeped car horns in front of district headquarters at the corner of Mingus Avenue and Willard Street shortly after 4 p.m.

“I have two children in Oak Creek School and they have excelled from day one,” protester Stephanie Richey said. “It’s the best school in the district.”

Richey said she would pull her children out of COCSD if Oak Creek School closed.

“I’m here making sure they know our kids won’t go to school in the district if they close Oak Creek down,” said protester Shawna Taylor, who has two children enrolled at the Cornville school.


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