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Vote to decide school’s future

MANATEE — Come January the doors to the history Duette School may stay open.

And Gerald Groover, an activist who has fought to make that a reality for the school at 40755 State Road 62, has his fingers crossed.

It all boils down to a vote by the Manatee County school board during its meeting Monday.

That’s when school Superintendent Tim McGonegal plans to recommend the board approve a contract with Duette Education Foundation — a recently formed nonprofit organization — so it can take over the school’s operations.

Duette, a five-room schoolhouse built in the 1930s, was slated to close this summer because the district is losing money due to low enrollment at the school.

After protests from Duette staff and parents — many who are foundation members — the board voted to keep the school open until Dec. 18. It gave the Duette Education Foundation time to form a nonprofit organization to take over Duette.

If the board approves the contract, the foundation will operate similar to a charter school, receiving 95 percent of the district’s allocation of state funding based on the number of students who attend the school.

“I believe the board is going ahead and vote it on it and pass it with no problems,” said Groover, president of the foundation. “Everything is looking really good.”

Shutting down the school would save the district $118,000 a year. The move was part of the district’s plan to reduce $25 million in spending during the next three years. Cuts to this fiscal year’s $708.6 million budget totaled $14.2 million.

As of Tuesday, Duette had 11 students enrolled being taught by one teacher, Donna King.

“We’re gonna work on getting more students in there. That’s the number one priority,” Groover said.

If approved the contract will run until the end of the 2009-10 school year.

“Then we’d have to renegotiate the contract each following year,” he said.

In 1930, the Duette schoolhouse was built by volunteers 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.