District administrators are proposing to close Career Prep High School to help deal with a $4 million budget deficit in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The proposal comes after 43 school district employees were laid off last week as part of the district's ongoing budget cuts. Laid off employees include 25 educational assistants, four maintenance workers, eight custodians, three school liaisons, two teachers and one counselor, according to school district spokesman James Preminger.
"The district does not have the money to fund those positions," Preminger said.
Only last week, the district projected that no more than 30 employees would be laid off.
Preminger added that the employees laid off last week may have the chance to be re-hired because the district expects about 50 employees to either resign or retire before next school year.
"We have no plan B," Preminger said.
For several weeks, officials said, both the district superintendent and the director of finance have been poring over paperwork for next school year's budget. They proposed the Career Prep High School closure on Monday. The issue will be discussed at a special meeting of the school board at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The meeting is open to the public.
Career Prep High School Principal Joyce Rock learned the news late Monday afternoon.
"I want them to handle the situation with grace and walk away without anger," Rock said, explaining that many of the students were upset by the news.
Rock informed the school's 116 students and 11 staff about the proposed closure Tuesday morning. She and district administrators will discuss the issue further with students and parents at 6 p.m. today at Career Prep High School.
The school is located just down the road from Shiprock High School on U.S. Highway 64. About a third of the students struggled academically or socially at other high schools in the district. Another third had disciplinary issues, and the rest became teenage parents. The school has a day care the only one in the district that sees between five and 20 children daily.
"It's better than the normal school," said Devon McKay, 17, a junior at the school. "It has smaller classes and fewer classes, so you can focus more."
While the school uses the same tests and curriculum as Shiprock, Kirtland Central and Newcomb high schools, about 57 percent of its students take five or six years to graduate or drop out. Still, the school's 43 percent graduation rate is a significant improvement from its graduation rate three years ago, which was 11 percent.
"We do whatever it takes," Rock said.
If Career Prep closes, most of its students will be enrolled at Shiprock High School, which is currently at only about two-thirds capacity. About 30 will likely go to Kirtland Central High School, and about a dozen will go to Newcomb High School.
"I've had a lot of kids cry today. They've been really quiet," said Cheryl Wolfe, an English teacher at the school.
Should Career Prep close its doors, the school district has not yet determined what it would do with the school's facilities. Also unknown at this time is whether the district would open a day care at another of its high schools.
Jenny Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane.