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Editor's note: Ellen Leslie is the editor in chief of the Digger Digest at Clear Creek High School. She is also the daughter of business manager Willie Leslie. The student newspaper broke this story …
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Editor's note: Ellen Leslie is the editor in chief of the Digger Digest at Clear Creek High School. She is also the daughter of business manager Willie Leslie. The student newspaper broke this story after rumors began circulating about the possible merger.
In the face of a $300,000 deficit and declining enrollment, the Clear Creek School District is considering combining kindergarten through eighth grade, or the middle school and high school.
The district has formed a task force with heavy-hitting community leaders to weigh nine options. Superintendent Bill Patterson is leading the task force, which includes no teachers or students. The members are Peggy Stokstad, Dan Ebert, Fabyan Watrous, Pauline Wolf, Lu Stewart, Cindy Talbot, Cindy Neely, Roslin Marshall, Tom Hayden, Jennie Vieweg, Craig Abrahamson, Marcia Jochim, Patterson, Michelle Fisher, JoAnn Sorensen, Megan Ferland, Cindy Condon and Ron Heath.
"We are certainly taking this very seriously — it is a serious situation," said Stokstad, president of the Clear Creek Economic Development Corp. and former school board member and county commissioner. "It affects the whole community.”
For the past month, the task force has been evaluating the options — including doing nothing — against 16 criteria. The ratings sheet included the following considerations: impact on academics, athletics, operating costs, maximizing facility use, use of staff, long- and short-term facility needs, transportation, social issues, community impact, ease of implementation and overall impact. The committee will recommend one or more options to the school board for review. All of the options will result in a reduction of staff, which makes up the biggest portion of operating costs for the district. And doing nothing is no longer an option.
“The losses in students and funding are catching up with us,” said Willie Leslie, business manager for the district. “There was also a major modification in teacher pay that contributed to the budget shortfalls … now, we’re having a wake-up call. We can’t continue this deficit spending, and therefore some major changes have to be made.”
This issue isn’t unique to Clear Creek. “It’s not just Clear Creek — two-thirds of school districts across the state are losing students and facing similar situations,” Stokstad said.
Talk of a merger has been circulating at the high school for weeks, and many students and staff are not thrilled about the idea. “I think that the students would be able to handle it, but it wouldn’t be the best educational path,” said Conradt Fredell, a science teacher who has taught at Clear Creek for decades. “I am not in favor of combining the two schools.”
Jennifer Reichert, a math teacher, said that “(a)ny of the options are do-able … I’m just not sure which one is the best.”
Even the members of the committee, including Stokstad, aren’t sure which option is the best. “I honestly don’t know,” she said. “I'm torn. Maybe as we move through the process there will be a clear winner, but right now there isn’t.”
The task force is meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. at the middle school's media center. Members are expected to reach a decision by Nov. 20 and present their recommendations to the school board at the Dec. 1 public meeting.
"We are trying to organize students in order to provide the best environment for the kids while at the same time address the declining enrollment and budget deficit," Patterson said.
The following is a list of the top four options based on the number of advantages listed by the task force:
• Relocate middle school to high school, close middle school Projected one-time cost: $500,000 ($260,000 available) Projected annual savings: $347,000
• Relocate preschool through sixth grade to middle school, and middle school students to high school, and move administrative offices to Carlson Elementary. Initial cost: $1.3 million Deferred cost: $2.3 million Projected annual savings: $280,000
• Sell Carlson; move preschool through sixth to middle school and middle school students to high school Initial cost: $1.3 million Deferred cost: $2.7 million Projected annual savings: $288,000
• Move first through sixth grade to middle school, middle school students to high school and keep Carslon as an early-childhood learning center Initial cost: $27,500 Deferred cost: $2.9 million Projected annual savings: $276,000
*The last three options have higher costs because they will all require initial construction to reconfigure buildings.
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