By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
His father gave 5 acres to the Curry County School District for $1 so that a school could be built on the land with one condition — if it ceased to be used for school or church purposes, the land would be his once again.
Sixty-six years later, the school — Ranchvale Elementary — teeters on the brink of closure.
Clovis resident Pete Davis, one of three surviving siblings from a family of seven and the principal owner of the property, doesn’t want his father’s gift to disappear.
“I would like the school to stay open,” Davis said from his home. Should that wish not be met, Davis said he would prefer the property serve the community, rather than sit empty.
Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm has recommended shuttering the school, citing a steadily declining student population and a serious budget crunch. Though school board members voted 3-2 to keep Ranchvale open in November, the issue will be voted on again in February, Seidenwurm said.
Seidenwurm is to update school board members on the Ranchvale property during this evening’s school board meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the administration building.
She met with Davis on Monday to discuss his thoughts on the future of the property, in part due to a request from school board members to find an alternative use for the school before the February vote.
“If we can find another use for the building, I think (the heirs) will be cooperative with whatever we decide,” Seidenwurm said.
Ninety percent of the students who attend the rural school are from military families stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, according to Ranchvale officials. The school and the base mirror one another as Department of Defense officials are searching for a new mission for the base after it was voted off their list for closure by a federal commission.
Seidenwurm, however, said her recommendation to shutter the school is not connected to the base, but to matters of finance and logistics, including the rural location of the school and an excess of elementary schools in the district. There are 13 in the school district.
School board member Mark Lansford said he does not yet have all the information he would need to make a decision about the fate of Ranchvale. He said shuttering a school is never an “easy thing to do,” and that many factors enter into school board votes on such heavy matters.
The shuttering of Ranchvale is the only one of three major cost-saving initiatives Seidenwurm outlined in November yet to be realized.
The school board approved the merger of Lincoln-Jackson Arts Academy with Bella Vista Elementary in November and the superintendent officially decided to return to the six-period day at the Clovis High School next year during the school break, eliminating the current block schedule. Seidenwurm will discuss that decision at this evening school board meeting, as well, she said.