Town Of Mills To School District Trustee’s Idea To Buy Shuttered Mills Elementary: ‘Shove It’
It may have seemed like a good idea at the time.
Natrona County School District board trustee Kevin Christopherson recently sent an email to the mayor of Mills suggesting the town buy the former Mills Elementary School property -- slated for sale or demolition -- for $400,000, which would put the about-to-be-mothballed Mountain View Elementary School at the top of the list if the district ever decides to reopen -- or "unmothball" -- Mountain View.
But Mills Mayor Seth Coleman, who with many town residents have condemned the board's decisions to close the only schools in the town, likened it to a payoff.
So to paraphrase an old country song, he told the trustees to "take this bribe and shove it."
Christopherson later said the suggestion wasn't a bribe, and that all mothballed schools would be on an equal footing if the need arose to reopen any of them
Besides Coleman, several other Mills officials voiced their objections to the impending closure of Mountain View Elementary, which the board approved in October.
Town Councilmember Ron Wales said some residents have told him that they were considering moving away because Mills is the only municipality in the county without its own school.
Coleman and Town Clerk Christine Trumbull also questioned the legality of this public hearing process, saying it did not follow state law.
But David Dewald, who does not live in Mills, said the public hearing was only about the pending motions to generally sell, demolish or mothball school district buildings, not about any specific sale.
After the public hearing, the trustees convened the regular meeting during which they proposed and voted on two motions about the schools that have been closed.
Trustee Dave Applegate said the decisions to close the schools were hard. But the decline in the extraction industries and their tax revenues have forced the Legislature, which funds most education, to curtail spending, he said.
Closing the schools, which had about 1,000 empty seats, not only affect the students but their families as well, Applegate said.
He also reminded people that operational expenses such as salaries are different from capital construction expenses, and they cannot be intermingled.
The first motion was to authorize the sale or demolition of Grant Elementary School and all associated facilities including portable classroom buildings; Mills Elementary School and all associated facilities; North Casper Elementary School and all associated facilities; and the Special Education Center and all associated facilities.
The second motion was to mothball Mountain View Elementary School; University Park Elementary School; Willard Elementary School; Westwood Elementary School; and Willow Creek School.
The trustees approved the motions by 8-1 votes. The only dissenting votes were cast by trustee Angela Coleman, the wife of Mayor Seth Coleman.
Between the two motions, trustee Clark Jensen criticized what he's seen as an "us versus them" attitude. "We're all from Casper," he said.
That drew a response from Angela Coleman, who said the trustees represent not just Casper, but everyone from Natrona County including Mills, Evansville, Bar Nunn and Midwest.
After the meeting, Seth Coleman said he didn't expect anything to change at Monday's meeting, which he said was a way for the district to try to backtrack from decisions it didn't make earlier.
In order to close or mothball a school, Coleman said the school district is supposed to draft a five-year plan for review by the State Construction Facilities Board. That requires a public hearing before approving the plan. After that, the district is supposed to have a vote whether to mothball or close the schools in that plan.
"Even tonight, this public hearing was not about the plan, it was about closing and mothballing and selling schools," he said.
Meanwhile, the Town of Mills will continue to pursue its lawsuit to determine the legality of the district's decisions to close Mountain View after the district had already closed Mills Elementary, Coleman said.