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Ed Center faces uncertain future

The future of the Archuleta County Education Center is in question as Ed Center Board President David Richardson explained to local government officials during Tuesday morning’s joint meeting of the Pagosa Springs Town Council and the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners.

It was with that dire report that Ed Center board members sought financial assistance from county and town officials.

“The last two years have been catastrophic,” Richardson said, adding, “The failure of 1B didn’t help.”

Earlier this month, county voters rejected ballot measure 1B, which would have increased the local mill levy by 1.5 mills with those used to fund the Ed Center, by over a three-to-one margin.

BoCC Chair Clifford Lucero asked Richardson what the Ed Center was facing in light of the failed ballot measure, along with a dramatic drop in grant funding and a decrease in financial support from the Archuleta School District 50 Joint.

“We have two options,” Richardson responded. “No, make that three. Pray, which we’re doing a lot of. One is to make dramatic changes in what we do and how we do it. The other is to shut the doors as of January first.”

Ed Center board member Rich Lindblad further elaborated on the financial crunch facing the program. “Basically, we’re in a negative cash flow,” Lindblad explained.

Lindblad and Richardson had provided the audience with handouts showing that, with a 37-percent drop in funding from the school district and a 57-percent decrease in grant funding, the Ed Center was expected to be $40,000 in the red at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

Lindblad further explained that grant funders are more inclined to award funding to organizations that show a positive balance sheet. With the center’s negative balance, Lindblad went on to say that the center would find it difficult to get further grant money.

Both Lindblad and Richardson explained that, with the national economic situation, grants have been difficult to secure, with the center going zero-for-eight for grants the center had applied for during the past year.

“We’re looking for sustainability,” said Commissioner Bob Moomaw, asking how the center would become self-sufficient.

Richardson replied that, with a positive balance sheet, the center would be in better shape for more grants, but also noted that, “We hope the community and businesses come to understand and use our teleconferencing facility. We believe there’s a real potential for income with that.”

Last year, the Ed Center installed state-of-the-art teleconferencing equipment, hoping to attract businesses to use the facility for online meetings, as well as providing local residents with an opportunity for post-secondary education.

The Ed Center also runs the Archuleta County Alternative High School (a program for students who have difficulty with more traditional classroom methods), and provides General Equivalency Diploma (GED) and English as a Second Language (ESL) services, as well as technical and vocational training.

“This community cannot afford to lose the education center,” Moomaw said, asking what financial needs the center had to survive through the next year.

Lindblad answered that the center would require $100,000 to keep its doors open during the next year.

“Is that $100,000 a fifty-fifty split between the town and the county?” asked Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon.

“However you want to split it up,” answered Richardson. “We just need one-hundred thousand to stay afloat.”

Earlier, Lindblad explained that the Ed Center board had already undertaken drastic cuts, deciding on a forced reduction in administrative staff. Two weeks ago, Ed Center Executive Director Don Goodwin was forced out by the board.

“We reduced staff at the top, to keep programs in place,” Lindblad explained.

Lindblad explained that Goodwin had acknowledged the need to cut staff costs and claimed that Goodwin remains supportive of the center’s programs, goals and mission. As such, Lindblad said during a phone interview with SUN staff last week that, “If funding is there, he will be brought back on board.”

As far as how the center will pursue future funding and sustainability, Richardson said that, “We’re going to try 1B again at the next election.

“We did it wrong this last time around,” he continued. “There was a lot of misinformation out there against it and we didn’t do a very good job responding to that or putting out a clear message. We’re going to change that this time around.”

In fact, the town and county will be looking for success in any future ballot initiative advocated by the center. Certainly, if town council and the BoCC decide to gift the center with the $100,000 it says it needs to meet operating expenses, it will be a one-time gift. Although the town and county were awarded over $2 million last August from previously uncollected taxes, that windfall is most likely not about to repeat itself in the near future.