Education

End of Costilla school?

Questa board to discuss academy's future

By Jesse Moya
jmoya@taosnews.com
Posted 11/21/18

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 …

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Education

End of Costilla school?

Questa board to discuss academy's future

Posted

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. (Taos News 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 Taos News 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.

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