Emotional school board meeting draws large crowd

Nearly 100 people, many bringing their own chairs, packed into the board room of the Dolores School District office Tuesday night for a long, busy and often emotional school board meeting.

The first order of business was a presentation from the Blythe Group, an architecture firm out of Grand Junction, hired to design the $6.07 million remodeling and new classroom construction project, which will be paid for in part by a voter-approved bond passed in November and the BEST grant.

"We are at the end of our first design phase," said Peter Truman Icenogle with Blythe.

Icenogle presented a preliminary plan to the school board that included a two-story science building with a enclosed skywalk stairwell to access the second floor.

Icenogle told the board that the second-story option would be easier to maintain and allow for future expansion at the school.

The plans also allow for additional parking and the addition of classrooms connecting the elementary to the commons area, include overhead doors, so that snow removal equipment can still get inside the courtyard.

Icenogle also told the board that the firm has been working hard to address drainage and snow removal issues.

At an early morning meeting Thursday, the Dolores School Board of Education voted 5-0 to approve the construction company FCI to do the construction project. The company is out of Durango.

"This is a very, very exciting time. We should be breaking ground as soon as school is out," Superintendent Scott Cooper said.

The public comment part of the meeting lasted over an hour Tuesday, with speakers that had problems to address with the schools and others who just wanted to voice their support for the school district.

Jim Schwartz was thankful the school board increased eligibility standards, despite complaints that the district has had a hard time keeping students eligible this year.

Monica Plewe gave an emotional and tearful plea to the board and demanded apologies from the board. She told them that she was pulling all her children out of the district. Plewe listed many problems with the district, one of which was that because her children accepted gift certificates for being named players of the week, they lost their amateur status and likely won't be able to play high school sports again.

"People make mistakes, an apology goes a long way to correcting those," Plewe said. "Everyone is so upset here now because there is no forgiving, there is no apologizing, it's my way or the highway."

She also said that she wanted to let the board know that she is aware of 20 families looking to transfer elsewhere because of the strife in the district.

"What message are you sending these families?" Plewe said.

She added that she had e-mails from the administration that her children were not welcome at the schools.

Kay Phelps told the board, "Don't let a handful of parents derail you."

Lenetta Shull handed the board a petition signed by about 200 parents calling for the dismissal of the administration and the high school.

"This makes me very sad," Shull said as she handed out the petition.

In other action, the board was told that the student government has secured dates for Jamie Utt to come to the school to speak. Utt is a nationally known diversity and inclusion speaker. Utt is expected to be in Dolores April 8 and 9 and will have a community portion, a section on bullying for middle school students and a presentation on diversity for high school students.

A few parents spoke up and asked why the student government didn't bring in a Christian speaker, but they were quickly quieted down.

"This has been in the works since last fall," Keith Moore said. "This is tolerance."

A permission slip will be sent home with students and parents only have to sign the slip if they do not want their children to attend at the middle or high school level. The program is not being offered at the elementary school.

In other action, the board hired Chris Trusler as the head football coach, much to the disbelief of a few in the audience who were told they could sit on the interview committee. Even School Board President Allan Thayer was upset he wasn't included.

It was also decided that a mediator should be hired to help heal the rift between the school community. The mediator, Cooper said, will want to contact parents that have concerns with the school district before she comes to town. Anyone wishing to get in contact with the mediator is asked to call the district office for contact information.

Also Tuesday, the board voted to continue to pay for college tuition for those that qualify at the high school level, but that the school fees would only be paid for on a sliding scale based on income.

An update was given on the Verizon cell tower and it was decided that the tower would add revenue to the school district and provide residents in town with better service. For now, the new tower will be temporary for a year.

"If we say no, they will move to the neighbor's property," Business manager Karen Andrews said.

It was also approved to begin an eligibility task force to try to help students stay eligible for sports

Also, survey results were handed out that showed that a majority of people were dissatisfied with the superintendent's and school board's performance. For example, when asked if the superintendent was an effective communicator 113 people said they disagree, while only 51 people said they agree.

The survey was quickly dismissed as unscientific.