The future of the Rico elementary school is more stable now that a mill levy increase was passed in November.
The small school is part of the RE-2J Dolores County School district, based in Dove Creek.
To offset state budget cuts, the district asked voters to approve a 3-mill increase, and it passed by a 448-340 vote. It will generate $300,000 a year, and sunset in seven years.
Securing the funding was critical, said Superintendent Bruce Hankins, to prevent district-wide cutbacks, including possibly at the Rico campus.
“Now we don’t have to have that discussion,” Hankins said. “Approving the mill levy definitely makes the Rico school more viable.”
Three teachers at the modest Rico school instruct 16 students in grades preschool through sixth grade.
The Rico curriculum is “project based” – a way of teaching core standards using more hands-on learning techniques, educational field trips, and community participation.
“The philosophy is that the more you experience something, the better you understand it,” Hankins said. “It is a different way of meeting standards that is more engaging and takes advantage of Rico’s surroundings.”
The Rico school’s student population must be large enough to make the operation viable, he said. Each student brings in $11,000 in funding.
Rico, population 262, is in Dolores County and pays taxes to the school district. But they are geographically (and politically) isolated from the county seat of Dove Creek, population 721.
On a county ballot, the interests of Rico residents can be at a disadvantage at the ballot box. But not this time.
“It’s encouraging to see that both Rico and Dove Creek voters showed their support for education by voting to approve the mill levy,” Hankins said.
There are an estimated 40 to 50 school-age children in Rico. A challenge for the school is that many children commute to Telluride schools because their parents work in the ski town.
The Telluride Ski resort recently bought the Rico Hotel for employee housing, said ski-area spokesperson Shannon Gibbs.
School officials hope some of the employees will bring families with school-age children to enroll in the Rico school.