The state of Soroco: An unclear future
November 19, 2015
Oak Creek — Inside the South Routt School District office Tuesday, board members and district administrators strategized on how best to revamp their district's image and tackle declining enrollment head on.
It's a conversation that's been ongoing for several months and one the current Board of Education is eager to continue, evidenced by the fact that four of the five members up for re-election this fall each chose to run again, all successfully.
If the district continues to lose students at the rate it did between last year and this year — declining from 367 to 327 students in grades K-12 — district administrators worry that the future of the district will be in jeopardy.
"We can speculate, but I've said from the beginning; failure to respond quickly and with whatever force we can muster, inevitably, in my opinion, we're heading towards elimination as a whole," said Superintendent Darci Mohr, who joined the district in summer 2014.
Mohr and some school board members are even ready to consider a conversation about consolidation with the larger Steamboat Springs School District but aren't prepared to propose merging the two districts just yet.
"I think it's time to have the conversation," said Board President Jules Palyo. "As board members, we just want to do the best by our students."
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With hopes of instead reversing the downward enrollment trend, board members Tuesday put together a list of district strengths — a strong agriculture program, low student-to-teacher ratios, high per-pupil funding and great networks of staff, parents, community members and volunteers involved in the schools — and then considered ways to "get the word out” to families when they make decisions about where to send their children.
"I think it's time to start marketing the district, particularly when we're losing so many students," Palyo said.
Apart from marketing existing strengths, district officials are hopeful property the district owns in Stagecoach may help the district offer more to its community and keep resident students attending their home district.
The 10-acre parcel was deeded to the district by a Stagecoach developer nearly 10 years ago as a potential site for another elementary school. The gift of land came at a time when more significant development was expected sooner in the rural community along the Stagecoach Reservoir. Back then, district officials were worried the elementary school in Yampa would exceed capacity in coming years, creating the need for a second school.
While the construction of an elementary school on the site is no longer realistic given South Routt's enrollment situation, district officials wonder if the property can be used as an education-based community center, potentially offering preschool, daycare, homeschool services and a library.
The district is open to working with other entities, government agencies and any group that could benefit by making the facility a reality.
A daycare or preschool facility in Stagecoach would help increase the appeal of the community to potential homeowners or renters, who often see the commute to either Steamboat or Yampa for preschool as a deciding factor to live elsewhere, according to John Troka, a Stagecoach property owner and president of the Stagecoach Property Owners Association.
"I think that not only the school district but the association would benefit," Troka said. "We want to in essence create an environment where the young families that come to Stagecoach have a place to enroll their children."
Ideas for how the parcel might become a valuable district facility are still in their infancy and don't change the reality of South Routt's current situation.
This year, the district is forecasting a $75,000 funding shortfall more than what it originally budgeted, and for the first time in many years, district leaders are considering the possible benefits of combining more resources with the Steamboat Springs School District, which it already partners with to share technology and financial management staff.
Steamboat Superintendent Brad Meeks said he isn't necessarily against consolidation or other resourceful approaches, but he said the conversation needs to be initiated by the district that is struggling.
"We're open to trying to help,” Meeks said. "We're empathetic with what's going on, but the solutions need to come from that district."
When considering consolidation, both Meeks and district officials from South Routt agree the process would be emotional, complicated and potentially something both communities may not support.
"It would be exponentially more emotional than any bond measure," Meeks said.
Mohr said she's hopeful the two districts can work together to employ solutions that benefit all of the students in Routt County.
"It doesn't have to be a competition," Mohr said. "Our board is willing to have the conversation (about consolidation) and wants to look into the long-term future."