Mariposa & Yosemite

Mariposa school board shuts down elementary schools

MARIPOSA -- Greeley Hill, a geographically isolated community in North Mariposa County – "population friendly, elevation just right” according to a road sign – won't have a school this fall. Neither will the town of Catheys Valley, just east of the Merced County line on Highway 140.

Both campuses are the victims of budget cuts attributed to the economy and a steep decline in enrollment.Mariposa County Unified School District board members voted Thursday to close the little schools in Catheys Valley and Greeley Hill for a total savings of about $400,000.

Friday night, the Coulterville Greeley School Parent Club held a free spaghetti dinner to thank the community for its involvement over the years. That gathering could be the school's last hurrah. Teachers and staff are waiting to hear where -- and if -- they'll be reassigned. Greeley Hill's three classrooms, cafeteria and aging play area could get fenced off to the public once the site closes for good. Even if that happens, the school district will have to renegotiate agreements with First 5, which holds a lease until 2012, and Mariposa County, which operates the neighboring Red Cloud Library.

The school's 70 students will probably be bused 12 miles to Lake Don Pedro Elementary School. Administrators say they've realigned bus routes so no student should be on a bus longer than 1 hour and 45 minutes. Likewise, in Catheys Valley, the school's 60 students will be taken by bus to Mariposa.It's probably not the last of the cuts facing Mariposa County schools — district administrators say they may eventually need to merge the Yosemite Valley and El Portal schools the following school year, and close Mariposa Middle School.

Despite dire forecasts, there was hope among some residents that the school district would pursue a special tax for schools. David Deto, a Yosemite West resident who rents out part of his home to tourists, suggested that the special tourism tax his visitors pay could be expanded to support schools in Mariposa County. Visitors to Mariposa County pay a 10 percent room tax called a transient occupancy tax, which adds $10 million each year to the county coffers, according to County Administrative Officer Rick Benson.

Benson said the school district would first need to research the legal issues and restrictions that come with the TOT tax, but that the county would be open to discussion.

"We're a small town. Everybody is in everything together here," he said.

Any additional taxes would have to be approved by 2/3 of voters and there's not a general election scheduled until 2012, so it's unlikely that a tax would provide an immediate budget fix for the school district.

County Supervisor Janet Bibby, a former student at Catheys Valley herself, urged school board members at Tuesday's meeting to reconsider the school closures each year. She also pointed out that nearly 200 homes are planned for the Catheys Valley area.

"It wasn't too long ago that we were talking about overcrowdedness," she said.