In a Tuesday letter to district administrators and governing board members, state education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera informed the district of the deadline and reminded officials of an upcoming public hearing to discuss the matter.
That hearing must be held before April 25, or 90 days from when Kirtland community group Children First submitted a petition to the state signed by more than 60 percent of registered voters in the proposed Kirtland School District.
Should the state approve a split, CCSD would divide in one of two ways; both would result in the Kirtland area splitting from the rest of the 3,000-square-mile district. The majority of district land is on the Navajo Nation, and the Navajo student population hovers around 90 percent.
Skandera's letter follows a March 1 prospectus prepared by Children First and submitted to the state. That report includes detailed answers to 18 questions regarding boundaries of the proposed district, costs associated with the split and a discussion on how a new district would be in the best interest of public education.
Children First, formed in May to protest administrative and school board decisions including the abrupt closure of the Kirtland Business Office and suspension of former superintendent Gregg Epperson, is spearheading the effort to split the district.
Friction between the Kirtland area and the rest of the district has spanned the last 30 years. In 1982, a group similar to Children First, called Kirtland Concerned Citizens, took the matter to the state board of education. Board members voted against a split despite testimony that "tensions between the two groups could be lessened by a division of the present district."
The district's attorney in 1982 argued that "a division of the district would constitute a step backward in the state's educational philosophy" and that a split would be discriminatory — most of the district's Anglo students would attend school in the new district — and would make the board vulnerable to civil rights lawsuits.
Children First believes the district is rife with hostility — more so now than in 1982. The group also argues that smaller districts would allow for more local control of dollars and better community involvement.
"We wholeheartedly believe (a split) will be in the best interests of all students," Children First wrote in its March 1 report. "The animosities that exist between these communities will be taken out of decisions that affect the lives of our students in both districts. The tensions and disputations between the parties are not healthy for our schools, our communities or our students."
The district maintains that a split is not in the best interest of children or of public education in the state.
"We most definitely oppose the split," district spokesman James Preminger said Friday. "The district office has received (Skandera's) letter. It's gone to our attorneys and the attorneys are working on a response."