End of Cos­tilla school?

Questa board to dis­cuss academy’s fu­ture

The Taos News - - NEWS - By Jesse Moya [email protected]­news.com The Taos News (Taos News

In the small town of Cos­tilla, stu­dents wake up and ready them­selves ev­ery morn­ing for a quick trip to their school. That trip could turn into a 20-minute bus ride in the fu­ture as the Questa In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict dis­cusses the pos­si­bil­ity of clos­ing Río Cos­tilla South­west Learn­ing Academy to save money.

For sev­eral years, the board has con­sid­ered clos­ing the school to cut costs and bus the stu­dents from the K-6 grade school to Questa. Cur­rently,

28 stu­dents at­tend Río Cos­tilla South­west Learn­ing Academy.

The school’s PTA planned on show­ing up in sup­port of the school for the Tues­day (Nov. 20) board meet­ing where dis­cus­sion of the school’s clos­ing was on the agenda. went to press Tues­day, Nov. 20, a day early due to Thanks­giv­ing.)

“We have a very tight bud­get, and we have to look at cost sav­ings, and we start look­ing at where are we ex­pend­ing the most funds,” said Su­per­in­ten­dent LeAnne Salazar. “There’s not a pre­de­ter­mined de­ci­sion. The school board wants to look at whether or not (the school) is a cost-ef­fec­tive way to use the dis­trict’s funds.”

Ac­cord­ing to Salazar, the Cos­tilla school an­nu­ally costs be­tween $65,000 and $80,000 in util­i­ties alone, and the dis­trict is seek­ing ways to keep that money in the bud­get for all 360 stu­dents within Questa In­de­pen­dent Schools.

Río Cos­tilla is the north­ern­most school in Questa’s dis­trict and ac­counts for only 7 per­cent of the dis­trict’s stu­dents. Salazar did not yet have the ex­act ex­pen­di­tures specif­i­cally re­lated to Rio Cos­tilla avail­able but did

say the dis­trict has al­ready made close to $1 mil­lion in bud­get cuts.

Par­ents in the Cos­tilla area are con­cerned for their school and their stu­dents. They are wor­ried they may have to bus their stu­dents to Questa, a 20-minute drive to and from school ev­ery day.

“This comes down on our kids, and it’s just not fair to them,” said par­ent and long­time Río Cos­tilla ad­vo­cate Nina Row­ell. “We don’t want to have to bus our kids all the way to Questa and back. Our kids love their school, and they love the dy­nam­ics they have with each other there.”

De­spite parental con­cerns, Salazar said that a bus of stu­dents in mid­dle and high school al­ready trav­els from the town near the Colorado bor­der ev­ery day to at­tend school. Stu­dents from Río Cos­tilla would ride the bus with the other stu­dents, adding no ex­tra cost to the dis­trict. Salazar also said the bus has more than enough room to ac­com­mo­date the 28 stu­dents should the board de­cide to close the school.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers have been down this road be­fore. In 2015, a mo­tion to close the school came be­fore the board.

The mo­tion failed in a 4-1 vote. Dur­ing the meet­ing, and sev­eral be­fore it, school of­fi­cials cited bud­getary con­cerns as the main rea­son to close the school. Cur­rent school board pres­i­dent Daryl Or­tega cast the only “yes” vote dur­ing that meet­ing, ac­cord­ing to ar­chives.

Ad­vo­cates of the school are cit­ing Río Cos­tilla’s most re­cent grade from the State Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment as a rea­son to keep the school open. The school re­ceived a B grade from the PED three years run­ning and re­mains one of Questa’s top per­form­ing schools in the dis­trict.

“We un­der­stand that Río Cos­tilla is a B school and we don’t want to take that away from them,” Salazar said.

While school of­fi­cials are en­thused of the B grade, only a small frac­tion of Cos­tilla’s 28 stu­dents were tested, ac­cord­ing to Salazar.

In ad­di­tion to the school grade, lo­cal par­ents and com­mu­nity mem­bers are ask­ing the dis­trict to con­sider the com­mu­nity if clo­sure is the board con­sen­sus.

“We’re re­ally tightknit in Cos­tilla,” Row­ell said. “Ev­ery­body works re­ally well to­gether whether they have kids in the school or not.”

The Río Cos­tilla Com­mu­nity PTA is made up of com­mu­nity vol­un­teers who ei­ther have chil­dren in the school or want to lend a hand. Each year, the PTA is re­spon­si­ble for field trips, science fairs and cul­tural events within the Cos­tilla area that all fo­cus around the school. Vol­un­teers gather to feed their neigh­bors and try to teach their stu­dents the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers in Cos­tilla are try­ing to re­main hope­ful for the school’s fu­ture and have been ex­tremely sup­port­ive in these times in the past. PTA Pres­i­dent Billy Vigil no longer has stu­dents in the school, but he re­mains ac­tive to help the school and by ex­ten­sion his com­mu­nity.

“The chil­dren are the heart of the com­mu­nity,” Vigil said. “They will be­come the adults here in the fu­ture.”

Vigil said he un­der­stands tough de­ci­sions must be made when con­cern­ing fi­nances and bud­getary con­cerns; how­ever, he and the PTA re­main pos­i­tive and plan to at­tend Tues­day’s school board meet­ing in full sup­port of their school.

Salazar said the like­li­hood of the board clos­ing the school at Tues­day’s meet­ing was ex­tremely low and that the process would be a se­ries of meet­ings and de­ci­sions that could take months to com­plete.

Ul­ti­mately, the school’s clo­sure would have to be jus­ti­fied to the PED be­fore the fi­nal de­ci­sion is made.

In 1965, the last class of Cos­tilla High School grad­u­ated and the build­ing was torn down in 2016, leav­ing the cur­rent school­house as the last re­main­ing school. Par­ents whose chil­dren sit at the desks in Río Cos­tilla will wait for the next step in, what seems to them, an up­hill bat­tle to keep their school’s doors open.

Jesse Moya

Río Cos­tilla South­west Learn­ing Academy may be in for a chal­lenge as the Questa In­de­pen­dent Schools Board of Ed­u­ca­tion dis­cusses the fu­ture of the north­ern­most school in the dis­trict.

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