Belen facing possible school closure, new attendance zones amid drop in enrollment


BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) – Belen’s oldest elementary school could be closing amid a decline in enrollment. District officials say the building has also fallen into “terrible disrepair,” but the discussion is getting mixed reactions.

“It’s a part of Belen. I mean, everybody- all the locals know the school,” Floressence Floral Boutique Owner Daniel Jaramillo said about nearby H.T. Jaramillo Elementary School.

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The big question on the table for Belen’s Board of Education is whether it will vote to close the campus as the number of elementary students enrolled district-wide has reportedly been dropping for a decade.

“Just in the past ten years, the district has lost 853 students,” consultant Colleen Martinez said at a workshop earlier this week.

Officials said the maintenance costs for the 49,000 square-foot space are more than double that of the other elementary schools, and utility bills are at least 20-percent higher.

“It is the oldest school in the district and it’s probably the most run-down in the district,” Board Secretary Max Cordova explained.

Officials attribute the enrollment drop at the K-through-3rd grade school, in part, to declining birth rates in the city and students transferring out.

“Based on capacity of 443, there’s 193 seats basically available within that school,” Martinez added.

They reviewed two options for new attendance zones for the district’s elementary schools, and what could be done with the aging building.

“I’m hoping whatever decision we make, we go in the direction of redistributing the students and we do keep the main building, which means we’re going to have to put some money into it,” Cordova said.

A former district board member was quick to blast the board. She worked to get voter approval on a GO bond almost two years ago, in part, to rebuild Jaramillo Elementary. She believes there should be more time for public input.

“We really need to keep our families and community in mind,” former board member Lisa Chavez stated.

Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez added that money could possibly be used to instead rebuild Dennis Chavez Elementary. “One of the options is moving the students from Dennis Chavez to Jaramillo so that we can get Dennis Chavez rebuilt quicker,” Sanchez said.

If the board does vote to close Jaramillo Elementary, it wants to assure parents and staff that it wouldn’t happen for at least a couple of years, and staff would be re-assigned, they said during the workshop.

The superintendent said the board will be studying future use for the historic part of the elementary school. The board could vote on the school’s future at its next meeting on Tuesday. They’d still have to present their plan to the state. To watch the July 19 workshop, visit their YouTube page.

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