Duette Elementary faces the possibility of closure

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 24, 2009 

MANATEE — Budget cuts are again threatening Duette Elementary School, East Manatee’s old-fashioned beauty that is thought to be the only one-teacher school in the state.

“We’ve been talking about the Duette school for a number of years, should we keep it open or close it?” Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said last week.

The subject has arisen again, prompted by a severe money shortage. McGonegal suggested that supporters might form a nonprofit corporation, raising enough money for its continued operation from the tiny rural community whose name it bears.

Under such an arrangement, the historic school would function more like a charter school or what officials call a “contract site.”

“There are some out there who would like to donate,” said McGonegal. The school board must make the final decision on its future, he added.

The numbers tell the story: The five-room schoolhouse costs $170,000 a year to operate and is running a $120,000 deficit, according to Margi Nanney, public information officer for the school district.

Its 10 students enjoy a way of life that has disappeared for most other elementary school students. All the grades study in the same building and with the same teacher, Mrs. Donna King.

“Can we raise our own money? That’s something I’ve got to find out,” said King. She has worked 17years at the school, which sits on an expansive lot dotted with huge oaks along State Road 62.

Aimee Randol, a University of South Florida intern visiting the school last week, was shocked to hear talk of closure.

“You have not just education, but it’s a museum, too,” she said. “I walked in here and got goosebumps. I just love what this is. This is a really, really educational environment.”

The possibility the school might close also disturbed some students.

“I would hate it,” said Dale DuBois, 11. “It’s not going to happen. We aren’t going to let it close.”

In 1930, the Duette School was built with volunteer labor after three smaller rural schools were consolidated, according to a historic plaque that stands on its grounds.

At one time, it offered eight grades and accommodated as many as 80 students, the plaque states.

“You know I love it here,” King said as the children joyfully rushed to recess. “I love it because it’s great for kids.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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