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Cortez RE-1 superintendent speaks on BOCES decision, says BEST grant considered

Updated: Apr 1

The district is considering applying for the BEST grant to build a new elementary school

By Bailey Duran Special to The Journal

Friday, Mar 29, 2024 10:26 AM Updated Friday, Mar. 29, 2024 10:27 AM

Photo from Kemper Elementary website

If the district proposes a bond and applies for the BEST grant, Kemper Elementary is one of the schools that would be replaced, as it is over 50 years old, according to Superintendent Tom Burris.

After the Montezuma-Cortez school district’s appeal to withdraw from BOCES decision was rejected, the district is considering the possibility of applying for a BEST grant and boosting teacher salaries.

On Thursday, Tom Burris, superintendent of Montezuma-Cortez School District RE1, told The Journal more about the BOCES decision, saying that they had hoped to become their own administrative unit and provide their own special education.

In 2023, the district applied to leave the San Juan BOCES and an administrative unit, but the request was denied by the Colorado Department of Education late last year.

The district then appealed the decision.

According to Burris, the district proved it could be an AU without BOCES, but it could not prove that BOCES and the other school districts that rely on BOCES could continue without Montezuma-Cortez’s participation.

“It’s an interesting process to be removed from BOCES,” Burris said. “I felt like we could do the job of administering special ed. We’re big enough to do it, and we can do it better just focusing on our kids. That’s why I wanted to pull out.”

“We proved that we could handle it,” Burris said. “I think having people who are local who know our kids is a better situation. … I saw us as big enough that we could serve our own kids, and we’d have our own people in house under our roof and that would have been a better situation for us.”

Burris said BOCES and the district now will find a way to move forward.

In the wake of the CDE’s decision, Burris said the district is exploring passing a bond and applying for a BEST grant next year to build a new elementary school.

Many of the elementary schools in the district are more than 50 years old, and most schools have a life span of 25 years, according to Burris.

If the district decides to move forward with this plan, they will propose putting a bond on the ballot in November.

“Mesa and Kemper are both in the same boat,” Burris explained. “They were built in the 1950s. So, my thought is to do one elementary school out close to the high school. There’s some land for sale out there. That would leave me with Lewis-Arriola, the new school, middle school and high school.”

Burris emphasized that discussions are in the beginning stage.

“That would be something the voters would have to vote on,” he said.

Burris also spoke of talks in the district of overriding the mill levy to improve teacher salaries, something the district had tried to do in the past, but were unsuccessful.

He went on to explain that teacher salaries in Cortez are about $40,000 per year, while Shiprock and Durango are paying their teachers $50,000 and up per year.

“We’re not being competitive at $40,000,” Burris said, noting that they wanted to be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers to the schools in the community.

More information on the status of the potential BEST grant and bond, as well as a potential mill levy override, will be provided as more information and updates are given from the Montezuma-Cortez school district.

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