Candie Siligo watched as her five-year-old son slid down the plastic water slide that parents and school staff set up at Manton Elementary to celebrate the kids’ last day of school. Many kids were running around the playground, spraying each other with squirt guns. The day seemed celebratory, though emotions ran high just under the surface. Today isn’t just the last day before summer, this school is shutting its doors permanently.
Siligo said she and other parents wanted to make sure their kids remembered the best of Manton Elementary, before they scatter to different schools across the county next year.
“It’s upsetting and it hurts and my son is very upset,” she said. “All these children love each other. If you just look out there, they’re all like brothers and sisters. They’ve all grown up together.”
Manton Elementary School is the second school to close in Antelope Elementary School District in just four years. Administrators are currently assessing another school about 30 minutes south of the community of Manton, in Paynes Creek, for possible closure next year. District Superintendent Rich Hassay said closing Manton Elementary was inevitable. The bottom line came down to declining enrollment. At its peak, the K-8 school had around 100 students. The district closed the middle school first. After that happened, there were only 13 elementary school students left.
The amount of funding the school receives from the state depends on how many students go there. Hassay said that with fewer students, there was less money to operate the school.
“Because schools are unfortunately a business as well,” he said. “We provide education, but you obviously have to balance the books and declining enrollment is something that makes it very difficult for small sites to survive.”
It’s a problem in rural communities across the nation. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of rural public schools in California dropped by nearly 400 between 2008 and 2014.
Judy Ramos had two sons in school at Manton. Her eldest graduated from the school’s last eighth grade class and her youngest just finished kindergarten this year. She said what she will miss most about the school is the individual attention her kids received there. With such small class sizes, each student had plenty of one-one-one time with their teacher. She’ll also miss the Safe Education & Recreation for Rural Families (SERF) after-school program. If she wants to send her kids to SERF at the elementary school in Red Bluff, she said she’ll have to wait in line the day the signup sheet opens.
“The day they signed up there’s parents there at 7 a.m. lined up and it didn’t open until 6 p.m.,” she said. “And not all the parents got in.”
Ramos also has concerns aside from her son’s education. She’s worried about her town’s future.
“Not having a school here effects everybody even if they don’t have children or not,” she said. “It affects the property value. It affects the community as a whole.”
Her fears are supported by numerous studies. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, schools are predictors of the vitality of the community. They influence where families decide to live and the property values of homes nearby.
This is one of many reasons Ramos and several other parents are pinning their hopes on starting a charter school. Parents and community members have formed the Manton Education Council to raise money for a charter school that could lease the current public school campus. If all goes well, Manton could have a school again by 2019.