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The clock is ticking for Big Park Community School.

The Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board on Tuesday, Feb. 23, took its first official step toward possibly mothballing BPCS, voting 4-1 to hold a public meeting to consider the pros and cons of closure.

The dissenting vote was cast by Bobbie Surber, a fervent supporter of keeping the school open.

The vote came at a special meeting, which was preceded by the latest in a series of public work sessions intended to find a solution to financial challenges prompted by declining enrollment and insufficient state funding. Both were held at Sedona Red Rock High School.

There were two items on the special meeting agenda. They were nearly identical, calling for scheduling a pubic hearing and notifying parents of the time and place for them.

The only difference in the wording was that the first item referred to the “restructure of our current instructional delivery model,” while the second referred to “closure of Big Park Community School.”

Governing Board member Karen McClelland moved to approve the latter, saying it “leaves every option on the table ... it doesn’t preclude the board from doing anything.”

Her motion was seconded, prompting the vote to approve.

In the meantime, Surber moved to approve the first item, but her motion died for lack of a second.

“That one stated more clearly that all options are on the table,” she said the next day, adding that the vote was further evidence other board members had already decided that BPCS would be closed.

Throughout the restructuring process, Surber identified Zach Richardson, Tommy Stovall and John D. Miller as board members who would vote to close the school. At Tuesday’s work session, McClelland indicated she would likely vote the same way.

“I thought closing Big Park was the last thing I’d ever consider ... [but] I’m starting to think that to give students the best education is to combine schools,” she said. “I have to listen to what the principals are telling me about what’s going to work best for the kids.”

During discussion of the two items, there appeared to be confusion among members of the public who attended the work session and stayed for the meeting.

Superintendent David Lykins, who introduced the measures, explained that the wording was legally required to initiate the “legislative process” and had been vetted by the school district’s attorney.

He said the first item did not require a building to be closed and the second did not indicate a final decision on BPCS.

Closing a school requires notice, he said the next day, so BPCS was included. WSS was not because discussions and presentations at the work sessions made it clear that moving a higher number of students into a smaller facility wasn’t feasible

As of Wednesday morning, SOCSD staff “was lined up with 1,200 envelopes” to begin notifying parents district-wide of the public hearing. A 10-day notice is required, according to Lykins, who said the hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 10, at the Sedona Performing Arts Center at the high school.

Those notices will include a statement that if the board, after the hearing, intends to vote on the closure, it will be at the next regular meeting, but at least 10 days after the hearing.

About 80 people showed up for Tuesday’s work session, many of whom spoke to the possible closure of BPCS. Most of those argued for preserving the school because of its place in the community, its academic success, concern about student safety and busing small children from the Village of Oak Creek to West Sedona.

They also questioned the cost savings of combining the two schools and whether the Governing Board has allowed enough time to fully investigate the need to close a school.

“I’m not enjoying this process. Nobody is. Nor should we,” Lykins said about the possibility of closing a school.

Although there were originally five models for restructuring the district, most Governing Board members — based on research, presentations and opinions expressed by administrators at the work sessions — are almost certain to move seventh- and eighth-graders to the high school from BCPS and WSS and consolidating kindergarten through sixth grades in either WSS or BCPS.

The five proposed models include the school closure option or maintaining the current configuration, each of which would save slightly over $1 million after cost-cutting measures are taken. The other three models involved realigning grades, and those three had similar savings, though slightly less than the other two.

Staff reductions are included in all models.

Those savings, along with other potential spending cuts, would offset an anticipated budget shortfall. At Tuesday’s work session, the amount of the shortfall was revised downward by $182,000 to about $1 million.

The revision was based on research that anticipates an influx of  students transferring from Sedona Charter School into the newly-sited seventh and eighth grades — rather than them waiting until ninth grade, as has been the case. More students means more funding.

The revision also factored in the anticipated loss of elementary school students.

Presentations provided by administrators and SOCSD staff regarding the restructuring are available online at sedonak12.org/wordpress.

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