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Duette Elementary gets reprieve

BRADENTON — The historic five-room schoolhouse Duette Elementary was slated to close this week because of budget cuts.

But that changed Monday night when the Manatee County School Board voted to keep it open until Dec. 18.

Board members, at the recommendation of Superintendent Tim McGonegal, agreed to give a group of Duette Elementary supporters time to form a nonprofit organization to take over the school’s operations.

The district is losing about $118,000 because of enrollment at the school at 40755 S.R. 62. It only has about 12 students signed up for the next school year.

District spokeswoman Margi Nanney said the magic number to keep the school running without losing money would be about 24 students.

The closing was one of the 30 items McGonegal recommended earlier this summer to balance the $697 million school district budget. He had provided $13.6 million in cuts.

The district had planned to turn the elementary into a “contract site.”

A group of Duette supporters, led by Gerald Groover, recently hired an attorney and are attempting to get approval of a 501(c)3 status - which is needed to become a non-profit organization.

The group plans to meet at the Duette Fire Station on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to pick a name, Groover said.

Before the board voted on the matter Monday, Groover told members that he’d like to set up a workshop with the board in the next few weeks to talk about the group’s status.

“To discuss issues we are dealing with ... to get the ball rolling,” Groover said.

McGonegal then recommended to the board that they allow the Duette Elementary supporters to have more time.

“I believe if we give them more time they will have a 501(c)3 and some funding for themselves,” McGonegal said. “If they don’t do that, the school will be closed on Dec. 18.”

Beside increasing enrollment, the biggest hurdle the supporters face is that it normally takes about six months to get the form approved, Groover said after the meeting.

They only have about four months.

In 1930, the Duette schoolhouse 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.

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