Ranchvale reprieve: Board decides against school’s closure

Ranchvale Elementary fifth-grader Devon Boddy, center, gets a hug from family friend Jennifer Settle, left, after hearing during Tuesday’s Clovis Municipal School Board meeting that the rural school will remain open. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The rural Clovis school in jeopardy of closing has been granted a reprieve.

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm rescinded her recommendation to close Ranchvale Elementary School, citing a chance for expansion at Cannon Air Force Base and a less formidable budget crunch as major impetus for the reversal.

“After some recent communication with the people most intimately involved with Cannon’s future, I have decided not to recommend closing Ranchvale for the 2006-2007 school year,” Seidenwurm said during a Tuesday evening school board meeting.

Local base advocates advised her that Cannon may receive word about a new mission as soon as March — one that will significantly swell the population of students in the district, Seidenwurm said.

Base supporters have speculated a special operations force may be interested in expanding to Cannon, but military officials have said no decisions have been made.

Ranchvale caters primarily to military families stationed at Cannon. Despite previous indications that her recommendation to close the school was independent of a federal decision that thrust Cannon, sans mission, into an uncertain future, Seidenwurm said recent developments concerning the base must be taken into consideration.

“The information I am getting now is that the new mission really may be incredibly large,” Seidenwurm said.

Also, proposed budgets in the 30-day legislative session have minimized the threat of a serious gap in school funding, Seidenwurm said. She projects a 2006-2007 budget deficit of about $400,000 — a far cry from the anticipated $1.7 million school administrators predicted earlier.

“It seems clear at this point,” Seidenwurm said, “that we are going to get the money we need to operate the district this year… There is no reason to believe there will be an immediate funding crunch.”

Furthermore, she said a promise she made to keep the school in excellent condition, so that other parties could use it, would be financially difficult to uphold and would nullify savings to be gleaned by its closure.

Ranchvale parents and students long opposed to the shuttering of the school greeted Seidenwurm’s Tuesday announcement with applause. Many of them tenaciously knocked her recommendation to shutter the school throughout the year, passing around petitions against the recommendation and donning specially printed T-shirts in support of Ranchvale.

“All the work we’ve done, wasn’t done in vain,” said mother Elaine Woloszyn, one of about 10 parents who clustered in the back of the room following Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“It’s the good Lord’s will that it stayed open,” added another Ranchvale mother, Wendi Winn.Ranchvale employees said a chorus of applause also erupted in the halls of Ranchvale Elementary School on Tuesday morning when students were informed of the decision to indefinitely postpone the closing of Ranchvale.

“We are all elated,” said Ranchvale Principal Suzanne Brockmeier.

But many parents said they remain leery of future pushes to close the school.

“It is difficult to predict the future,” said school board member Mark Lansford, who is uncertain that the recommendation to close the school won’t resurface.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

• School board members voted unanimously to extend Seidenwurm’s contract until June 30, 2008, and will consider giving the superintendent a raise when they set the budget in April.

• An independently drafted school district audit was approved by school board members.

• The 2006-2007 school year calendar was approved.

• Director of operations Gene Bieker announced the school board is swapping Qwest phone services for ENMR Plateau phone services. The swap will cut the district’s phone bill by 40 percent, Bieker said. The school is to make the switch in July, utilizing Pleateau’s new fiber optics services.