Rico annexation to Telluride School District proposal explained to KOTO listeners


· School

Rico advocates and Telluride School District Superintendent answer questions for "Off the Record" live public affairs program audience

broken image

Rico residents Sarah Lyons (left) and Madeline Tanguay at KOTO radio studio in Telluride - March 28, 2023

photo courtesy of
Madeline Tanguay

Rico members of a planning committee exploring potential detachment and annexation of Rico from Dolores County School District to Telluride School District explained this option to KOTO Off the Record listeners March 28, 2023. Off the Record is an hour-long weekly KOTO public affairs program which airs Tuesdays at 6:00 PM.

The Planning Committee consists of representatives from Rico, Telluride and the Dolores County School District Dove Creek area .

KOTO News Director Julia Caulfield interviewed Rico committee members Madeline Tanguay, Sarah Lyons and Telluride School District Superintendent John Pandolfo. A few listeners phoned to submit comments . questions.

. . .




Annexation and Detachment defined

> What is annexation and detachment? Where did this conversation start? Why are we having this conversation now?

Madeline: “When a home, property, or land is removed from a school district, . . . that is detachment. When that property is added to a school district, that is annexation.”

- - -

> Rico is currently in the Dolores County School District. Where did this conversation start? Why are we having this conversation now?

Sarah: “We don’t have a school close enough that kids can easily attend. We belong to Dolores County School District. Historically, a lot of kids went to the Town of Dolores school from Rico. But the school district we actually belong to is in Dolores County and that is in Dove Creek. On the highway that is 74 miles.”

Audio: Julia, Madeline and Sarah discuss Rico school attachment/detachment and how the concept began​.

audio clips recorded from
live broadcast and reproduced
with KOTO permission


Many of the Rico parents commute to Telluride for work, explained Madeline. If their child attended school at Dove Creek and became sick, a two-hour drive to Dove Creek would be impractical. “Having their children in school in the same town is really important.”

Sarah added, “Our kids have a commonality with the kids in Telluride. They like to ski, they like to ride mountain bikes in the summer. It's where they feel they belong.”

- - -

> What is 'School Choice,' and what does this mean for Rico, Telluride and Dolores County School District?

John: “In Colorado, students are able to apply to go to another school district through School of Choice. The way that it works in Colorado, the funding follows the student. For Every Rico student that is enrolled in the Telluride School District when we do our October count, which allows us to get funded for the following year, that student is counted the same as a Telluride student.”

Audio: John explains Colorado School of Choice option


Rico out-of-district students could get bumped from Telluride schools if a grade is full

> Since Rico students already attend Telluride Schools and the funding arrangements are in place, what is the benefit of joining Rico to the Telluride school district?

Sarah: “It works great until there is not enough space, even just one class. That was my personal experience with my children. I have two children, in different grades. There was plenty of room for one child, and potentially not enough room in the grade for my other child.”

Sarah stated that she and her husband both work in Telluride. She communicated through the summer with the superintendents of both Dolores County and Telluride School Districts. The potential classrom space issue did not happen, and her child was able to attend at Telluride.

Sharing her concern with other parents in Rico about the risk of inadequate Telluride classroom space for Rico students, Sarah learned that, “If there isn’t any space, there nothing you can do about it."

She later learned from the superintendents that “they were already having this conversation” and that the possible lack of space at Telluride schools for Rico students was “on their radar.”

“The most important part of this is for the kids to have a place to belong. Where they get to say, ‘This is my school’ and feel that school pride.”

“That feeling of belonging is so important to all of us.”

“To me, that’s the most important thing in this potential annexation and detachment, to give our kids a place they belong, to give the Rico kids a school they can belong to, and go forward and to be Telluride Miners.”

Audio: Sarah tells of possible lack of space for one of her children at a Telluride school.


Egnar School in SW San Miguel County joined Dolores County School District

. . . previous Rico attempt to annex into Telluride School district failed

. . .

> Explain the history of school detachment and annexation.

John described Egnar in southwest San Miguel County as an example of a school district joining another, which he believes occurred in the 1980s.

A January 1965 Colorado Department of Education School District Organization report obtained by Ore Cart lists elementary-only school district dissolutions, and proposed one that had not yet occurred: “The other elementary school district is the Egnar school district in San Miguel County which is sending its high school pupils 12 miles to the Dove Creek high school of Dolores County School District Re No. 1. Some encouragement should be given to San Miguel and Dolores counties to resolve this situation.”

Egnar is now included in Dolores County School District area.

Reviewing the previous attempt to move the Rico area from Dolores County School District to Telluride, John commented: “I think Rico is geographically in a really interesting place. While they are inside the boundaries of Dolores County, they are a definitely closer community to Telluride.”

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Southwest Colorado School Districts. Rico is separated from Dolores County School District classrooms at Dove Creek by two other school districts and 74 highway miles.

Ore Cart map created from
Colorado Department of Education
& Colorado Department of Transportation
cotrip.org  map


“In 2002 and somewhat before 2002, a lot of the parents in Rico at that time really wanted to make this happen. So there was an effort to make this happen, and it was a positive vote within the Telluride School District boundaries and a negative vote within the boundaries of Dolores County School District including Rico. The belief now is that at that time a lot of people really didn't understand, they did not understand the financing, did not understand the impact, it just wasn’t communicated that well.”

“We believe a big job of the planning committee now is putting out the right information, putting the facts out, and making sure everybody gets that information in an understandable way.”

John first spoke about Rico students with Dolores County Schools Superintendent Ty Gray about three years ago, he said, but the Covid pandemic interrupted progress. He credited Sarah for re-starting the process by approaching the two school boards and superintendents.



Planning Committee: how was it created and what does it do?

> What is the role of the planning committee?

Madeline: “We have met three times since January 30, that was our first meeting. Organization began by the Dolores County School District board of education submitting a resolution to the Colorado Department of Education.”

Telluride Schools next submitted a similar resolution. These resolutions proposed formation of a detachment and annexation organizing committee. Colorado Department of Education (CDE) instructed the districts to appoint committee members. Each school district appointed two members, and each district's accountability committee appointed one member, for a total of 6. The superintendents attend meetings to provide guidance.

Most of the work at the three meetings has focused on research to determine what needs to be done, and what is best for the kids of Rico, explained Madeline. Issues discussed have included student transportation, legal nuances and financial matters.

Audio: Madeline describes Rico Annexation & Detachment Planning Committee formation and research.


Impacts on Telluride School District if Rico joins

> What is the benefit to Telluride of Rico joining the school district?

John: “I 100% agree that first and foremost it is about what's best for those students, and those students are our students. They've been our students, we want them to be our students. We’re stuck with some of the legal constraints that we’re stuck with, and this basically will remove some of those constraints. It’s heart-wrenching to have to send the kind of letter I ended up sending to Sarah last summer.”

There is not a lot of up-side/down-side for the Telluride School District, he continued. Rico will add a little bit of tax base. “The folks in Rico have been paying taxes for decades and decades to a district where they don’t get any benefit out of that.”

Telluride School District would likely take ownership of the Rico School building, he advised, and this will be an asset and a liability. Rico School has ongoing expenses such as heating to keep the pipes from freezing, and electricity. “But that’s very small in the big picture of what we’re talking about. Certainly the Telluride School District Board members, the staff at the school district, the folks I have spoken to about this in the town of Telluride, everybody feels like it is the right thing to.”

As for Dolores County School District and its voters, the tax base is different from Telluride. Rico is a very small part of it, and it doesn't have that much effect on the district, voters and taxpayers, he stated. “They get to let go of a building that isn’t doing much for them right now.”

In addition to the more than 20-out-of district Rico students, Telluride schools have more than that number attending from Norwood, and some students from Ridgway, Ouray and Montrose, John added.



Election date is not set, November 2023 is the goal

> Has a date been set for the proposed Rico annexation & detachment election to be held in the three affected communities?

Madeline: “The timeline is really what we determine it to be. There has not been a lot of guidance from CDE for example beyond what we’ve already done.”

Timelines occur at various stages of the planning process, explained John. When the committee develops a “tentative plan,” this is submitted to each school board and the CDE commissioner. The first public meeting is the next step, then a final public meeting, completion of a "final plan" by the committee, and CDE Commissioner approval of the final plan.

The planning committee may set any vote date. November is popular but is not required.

. . .

> Will the planning committee complete its work in time for a November 2023 vote?

Sarah: “I think we’re hopeful that we could accomplish this as soon as possible, because of what we’re up against. It would be great to secure peace of mind for the children to have a place to go to school, the sooner the better.”

Madeline: “With other Rico parents, I feel there is this underlying fear, for lack of a better word. . . . Will this be the year that my child won’t be able to go to school in Telluride?”

Audio: John, Sarah and Madeline discuss election timeline, and goal for an election in November 2023.


Boundary line between altered school districts

> Where will the new boundary between Dolores County School and Telluride School Districts be located if the Rico detachment and annexation is approved?

Madeline: “We’ve been working on maps. This is one of the topics we’ve been exploring as a committee.” The committee is considering the Rico Fire Protection District service area, she added.



A good fit for all communities

Sarah: “We’re looking for all the little things that could raise red flags for voters or for parents or for students. Take them apart, look at all the pieces, say ‘is this good for everyone?' ”

“It seems like a really good fit for all communities involved. I’m so happy to say that. We haven’t come up against a wall yet, 'that’s a problem we can’t fix,' or 'that’s too much money that’s going to be lost or gained or moved around.' ”

"For every question that’s come up, there’s a great answer that’s definitely a win for all the communities.”

“It’s not going to hurt the taxpayers of Rico, it’s not going to hurt the taxpayers of Telluride or the taxpayers of Dolores County School District. It’s going to be a win for everyone.”

Some may be skeptical about the expected win-for-everyone result, but the positive financial outcome “is due to the complexities and nuances of how education is funded in the State” (of Colorado), added John.

Previous Rico town manager Kari Distefano phoned with a comment. She stated that the previous Rico school detach/annex vote failed because Dove Creek voters were concerned about Dolores County School District property tax revenue loss if Rico seceded. John replied that funding formulas have changed, so the impact on Dolores County Schools if Rico departs will be minimal, and will benefit from elimination of its Rico School heating and electric utility expenses.

Audio: Sarah explains how Planning Committee research produced "good fit" results.


Response from communities is positive

> Has opposition to the Rico detachment and annexation has been encountered?

Madeline reported that she has not met any opposition in Rico and Telluride. “I think people have questions, and that’s what our committee is here to do, answer questions.”

Sarah added she has attended Dolores County School Board meetings and spoken with numerous people. “When they see that it’s about a little kid needing a place to go to school, and needing to belong to his community of school, they’re in support of it.”


More info

Rico detachment and annexation planning committee website - Kids of Rico