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By Dick Richardson and Lisa Scott
Special to The SUN
The Board of Directors of the Archuleta County Education Center, with great regret, decided at its monthly meeting on May 9 to close the center, as it has existed, effective Aug. 30, 2013.
Each year, the board has struggled to find revenues to operate the facility, while simultaneously reducing staff and all other non-essential expenses. Each year has been more difficult.
The projected deficit for even minimal operations in 2013-2014 convinced board members that the responsible course of action was to close the center while there are still sufficient resources to honor commitments during the summer and pay the staff and bills.
Like any nonprofit, the center has survived from multiple sources of funding and various collaborative partnerships. Those partnerships, which include a source of funding as well as program delivery, included the Archuleta County School District for an alternative high school program and Pueblo Community College for post-secondary course offerings via interactive televideo conference, local instruction and online delivery.
In making the decision to close, the board considered three primary factors:
1) The loss of revenues from the operation of an alternative high school which was transferred to Pueblo Community College via the Archuleta County School District in 2011.
2) The inability of Pueblo Community College to deliver services, staff support, administrative leadership and routine communication during the 2012-2013 year, along with the lack of any planning or strategy that offer hope for significant improvements in the future.
3) The decreased availability of grant funding in both amounts and sources.
Since losing support from the school district, the center has been able to survive thanks to significant support from the Pagosa Springs Town Council, some support from the Archuleta County commissioners in 2013, foundation grants, and the generous contributions of many citizens from the community, including members of the board of trustees.
The mission of the center has been to provide services such as English as a second language (ESL) and citizenship training; general equivalency (GED) high school training, testing and diplomas; access to community college degree courses, advising, and financial aid for the place-bound; tutoring for grade-school students and enrichment programs; and first aid and CPR training and other community education to help local residents strengthen job skills. These services are typically provided through public support in other communities across the state and country because recipients of such services typically are not able to pay for them and because such services add value to the community. While the center has benefitted from public support and charitable contributions for specific services, no single or combined entity has been willing to provide the continuing support essential for predictable revenues for responsible operation. Communities receive the kinds of services they value and are willing to support. The board has reluctantly concluded that these services are not valued enough by the people or the government agencies in Archuleta County to support them at the minimum level required for reasonable quality.
The board has requested its executive director, Julie Loar, to study current services to determine which, if any, generate enough revenue to pay their direct costs and enough overhead to offset costs of maintaining a minimal operation until June 2014. Some services, such as the federal grant that supports the direct costs of GED and English Language Learning cannot be transferred to any other agency and would require a new application, meaning these services would be entirely lost to the community during the coming year if the center cannot offer them. Based on her analysis, the board will decide whether to permanently close the center on Aug. 30 as currently planned or to try to maintain some nominal operation until June 2014. The board will make this decision by its August meeting. The board does not currently see the feasibility under current circumstances of any operation beyond that date.
The services offered at the center are unduplicated in the county and provide education that will have to be sought online or in Durango. Programs at the center are robust in the number of students enrolled, but must be offered at a fee structure that does not fully support all program costs. Strong communities engage and educate their residents. National research shows that additional instruction outside the classroom helps engage students in learning and prepares them for high school, and each high school drop out costs tax payers more than $300,000 over a lifetime. Access to adult education strengthens an individual’s ability to gain meaningful employment and intensifies the community work force.