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Working to provide affordable educational opportunities

In the November 2010 elections, the Archuleta County Education Center placed tax initiative 1B, sponsored by the Archuleta County commissioners and supported by the Pagosa Springs Town Council, on the ballot. The tax levy, if passed, would have allowed the ed center to maintain existing programs and to pursue a number of promising new programs. The voters, however, decisively rejected the proposal.

Following the November election and the failure of 1B, the ed center board of directors faced a fiscal crisis threatening the ed center’s existence. As a result, the board made a decision to initiate cost-cutting measures. These measures included a reduction-in-force that eliminated the position of executive director. The board then assumed the responsibility for the interim management of the center along with accountability for ed center programs and fiscal arrangements.

The motivation of the ed center reorganization was summed up by board member David Smith. “Much of the success of our nation will depend on our ability to compete within the international workforce. Preparation for this challenge requires various forms of education for all Americans, and we need to start right here in our own rural county.”

As a result of this shared attitude, the board has pursued three major directions simultaneously. The first determined the actual fiscal circumstances of the center and so the board revised both the accounting and reporting procedures. A second change involved an analysis of the revenues and costs for each program. The third and final change occurred with the board’s decision to initiate candid conversations with the Pagosa Springs Town Council, the Archuleta county commissioners, the Archuleta County school district and the ed center staff.

The fundamental issue following the restructuring and the most pressing issue facing the ed center board was locating predictable sources of funding.

In spite of the difficult economic climate, the board committed to the future success of the ed center and pursued the possibility of conditional, temporary financial support from the county commissioners and the Pagosa Springs Town Council with the hope that services remain uninterrupted while the board moves forward seeking long-term financial solutions.

While the goals for the education center remain unchanged, the board recognizes that the business model used since the inception of the center in 1989 requires an overhaul. That plan identifies the following goals and objectives: First, to be financially self-sufficient by the end of 2011; second, to resolve issues related to alternative high school services for Pagosa Springs through conversations with the Pueblo Community College, Pagosa area school district and the Goal Academy; third, to have 90 percent of all students that enroll in ACEC programs finish their program and achieve their desired certification; and fourth to offer at least five classes in post-secondary education in the 2011 spring semester, with additional classes offered in the following fall semester.

Collaboration with the Archuleta County school district remains particularly important for the ed center. Board president Dave Richardson echoed this sentiment recently at a combined school district-ed center board meeting when he said, “In the future, the superintendent of schools (Mark DeVoti), the Archuleta County school board and the ed center board will work together very closely to identify and define the best educational options for all of the citizens of Archuleta County. We will then implement these options in the place and manner that will allow our citizens to achieve their personal and professional goals.”

Two joint meetings of the boards have already occurred since the election. Other actions are planned, including the exchange of representatives and invitations to staff to attend meetings that affect both organizations.

Recently the ed center board and staff and representatives of Archuleta County School District met with GOAL Academy. The academy, a tuition-free Colorado public high school (charter school), delivers classes primarily via the internet. GOAL also operates drop-in centers where students are provided with one-on-one tutoring, life-skills management and academic reinforcement. Currently no drop-in centers exist in southwestern Colorado. The meeting explored the possibilities of offering alternative high school services to out-of-school youth and home-schooled students through collaboration between GOAL Academy and the ed center.

In addition to the conversations with GOAL Academy, the ed center is also pursuing conversations with Pueblo Community College (PCC). These discussions allow the ed center to seek further possibilities for post-secondary course work along with workforce development that can further benefit the community. PCC already has a substantial presence through Southwest Community College in Cortez and Durango, and they may well extend that presence into Archuleta County.

These various efforts were summed up by ACEC board president Dave Richardson when he said, “The ed center is here to supplement the educational system of our county by providing educational opportunities that are outside the normal purview of the Archuleta County school district. In addition, we will serve the people in our community who are no longer eligible to attend the traditional county schools. A student may be too old to attend the high school, but never too old to learn new skills. We are here to help with that learning.”

As the ed center board and staff attempt to tie all of these efforts together, their vision continues, according to board member Rich Lindblad, “to provide the citizens of Archuleta County with affordable educational opportunities that promote professional growth and optimize services for individual citizens.”