AZTEC — Sixty-two percent of registered voters in a proposed new school district west of Farmington signed a petition seeking approval from the state to split the Central Consolidated School District.

This is according to signatures and numbers that members of the Kirtland community group Children First presented Tuesday to San Juan County Clerk Debbie Holmes.

"We hit every community, basically," said Byron Manning, the district's director of finance and operations, who presented two boxes of signatures to Holmes. Manning was placed on administrative leave with pay May 17 and still is earning his salary pending the state's approval of a proposed settlement.

"It was signed by the whole community," Manning said of the petition. "Hundreds of volunteers put in thousands of hours."

The signatures — 3,055 of them — came on 367 sheets of paper. The group also typed up the names and addresses and alphabetized them to help cut the workload of the clerk's office, which must verify every signature against voter registration records.

The group needed at least 2,950 signatures, or 60 percent of registered voters living within the proposed district, on the petition. Volunteers divided the area into 12 neighborhoods, Manning said. About 85 percent of voters reached by Children First signed the petition in favor of a new district.

"The support was widespread," he said.

Holmes did not have an estimate on how long it will take her office to verify the signatures.

"We'll get to work," she said. "I don't know what the timeline will be."

Once the clerk's office has verified the signatures, Children First plans to inform the CCSD governing board and then forward the petition to the state Public Education Department.

The state has 90 days from receipt of the petition to conduct a public hearing, department spokesman Larry Behrens said. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether both the existing school district and the new one each have a minimum of 500 students and a high school, and that creating the new school district is in the best interest of public education in both districts.

The department in July sent a letter to the district and Children First, advising against the proposed split. The state declined to comment Tuesday specifically about the petition.

"From day one, PED has tried to refocus the attention to what is best for our students and will continue to do so," Behrens said.

Children First is proposing the district be split along the reservation line, Manning said. The new district would be south and west of the Farmington Municipal School District, east of the reservation line and north of the San Juan River.

The presentation Tuesday, attended by half a dozen Children First representatives and the media, comes nearly six months after the group formed to protest decisions made by the governing board of the 3,000-square-mile district that straddles the reservation line and encompasses 17 schools.

"It's been coming for a long time," Manning said of the proposed split. "It's been discussed in the community for four years."