'Don't close our school'

Community members ask school district to keep Big Park school open

VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK -- Four hours into Thursday's meeting at the Sedona Red Rock Performing Arts Center, parents, community members - even children were lined up, ready to plead their case.

One by one, hundreds gave their two cents - and three minutes worth.

Don't close Big Park Community School, they collectively said.

"Never have I seen a turnout like this," said Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District board member Bobbie Surber of the estimated 600 community residents in attendance.

"They all said the same thing," said Surber, a West Sedona resident. "That the school was the heart of the community. They talked about how closing the school would destroy their community."

According to Jay Litwicki, the school's principal for the past two years, the Big Park Site Council would like another year "to prepare a suitable solution that doesn't include closing our school."

March 22, the school board will vote whether or not to close Big Park, a school Litwicki also said "has always been a successful school, by any measure."

Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District includes Sedona Red Rock High School/Red Rock Academy, West Sedona School and Big Park Community School. In the past 10 years, SOCUSD has lost 20 percent of its student enrollment.

Recently, District Superintendent David Lykins gave five options for the district to meet a $1.3 million target reduction in budgetary obligations within three years.

According to the document "Recap $$$" (available on the SOCUSD website), options include:

• Closing Big Park Community School or West Sedona School (an estimated savings of $1,046,670);

• Keeping the current model, but reducing programs and staff (an estimated savings of $1,029,150);

• Reorganizing current campuses into grades K-4, 5-8 and 9-12 (an estimated savings of $1,008,670);

• Transitioning current campuses into grades K-5, K-8 and 9-12 (an estimated savings of $ 992,200);

• Reorganizing current campuses into grades K-6, K-6 and 7-12 (an estimated savings of $ $869,200).

Rather than seeing Big Park Community School close, school board member Karen McClelland said she would like to see district reorganize both Big Park and West Sedona schools as K-6, and Sedona Red Rock High School to serve grades 7-12.

"That has always been my first choice," said McClelland, who lives in the Village of Oak Creek.

Whichever choice the district makes, Litwicki says will be difficult for a lot of people.

"Whatever we do will require people to roll up their sleeves," Litwicki said. "Keeping the school open will mean lost jobs. It's possible to succeed either way. But it's less disruptive to close our school."

District Superintendent David Lykins said this about the meeting:

"There has been no decision made by the Board on the closure of the school. Actually, that is why the legislation requires this type of statutory requirement to hold such a meeting so the Governing Board can continue to gather feedback from the community they were elected to serve, prior to making any decisions," he said.

Typically, SOCUSD governing board meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. and are located at Sedona-Oak Creek Unified School District #9, 221 Brewer Road in Sedona. But Surber has asked that the March 22 meeting be moved to the Sedona Red Rock Performing Arts Center - and to be held at 5:30 p.m. to allow for more people to attend.

Meetings are open for public comment. Call 928-204-6800 for more information. Board meeting dates, agendas and minutes can be found at www.sedona.k12.az.us/governing-board-postings.html.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42 and on Facebook at @CampVerdeBugle

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