Families in the mountain town of Rico, in Dolores County, rely on their small school to educate elementary-age children.
But parents are worried it could be on the chopping block because of a budget crisis affecting rural schools in Colorado.
The modest brick building has 16 students in grades preschool through sixth grade, and three teachers who also share administration work. It is part of the RE-2J Dolores County School District, based in Dove Creek.
The school district overall is facing a budget crisis, and is expected to ask voters in November to increase the mill levy by three mills to cover statewide budget cuts for education.
"Revenues keep going down, but expenses keep going up, and the only way to increase revenue it to ask for a mill increase," said Bruce Hankins, RE-2J superintendent.
If approved, the increase would bring in an additional $300,000 per year, Hankins said, and return the budget back to 2007 funding levels. After seven years, the mill-levy increase would sunset.
Hankins said the district has made as many cuts as they can without impacting a quality education. He said they are committed to keeping the Rico school open, but without the mill levy increase, nothing is guaranteed.
"If mill levy does not pass, we will have to make more cuts, and everything would be on the table," Hankins said. "The additional mill levy makes it easier to justify keeping it open."
Rico, population 262, is in Dolores County and pays taxes to the school district. But they are geographically isolated from the county seat of Dove Creek, population 721.
On a county ballot, questions such as school funding, the interests of Rico residents are at a disadvantage at the ballot box.
"We're asking the county to recognize the unique circumstances of our small mountain community," said parent Matt Downer, of Rico. "Our bustling school and wonderful teachers are the heart of our town. It's essential for our families."
The Rico school student body has slowly grown over the years to its current 16 students. There are an estimated 40 to 50 school-age children in Rico, with middle and high school students commuting to Telluride or Dolores schools.
School officials say the mill levy increase is seen as a stop-gap measure until the state begins funding schools the way Amendment 23 to the state constitution intended.
The measure was supposed to guarantee K-12 education funding at the rate of inflation plus 1 percent.
But Hankins said the legislature decided only the base funding was protected, and they cut funding that addressed the special fiscal challenges of rural schools.
The so-called "negative factor" has resulted in a $400,000 per year budget cut for the Dolores County School District, or about $1.9 million since 2008.
The proposed mill increase for the district translates to an additional $24 per year in property taxes on a $100,000 house.
The school district will give a presentation on the proposed mill levy increase on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at the Rico Courthouse, starting at 6 p.m. The district school board meeting will begin at 7 p.m.