Arizona

Jul 22, 2014 8:13 PM by Associated Press

Yarnell elementary school struggles after wildfire

YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) - The school district that serves this community northwest of Phoenix is struggling with declining property values and student enrollment after the Yarnell Hill Fire killed 19 firefighters and destroyed more than 100 homes last year.

The Model Creek School, the only one in the Yarnell Elementary School District, had a $150,000 budget deficit, Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter said.

The district's governing board recently approved a $2 tax rate increase for some homes to help offset the losses, the Daily Courier reported Tuesday. The state also has reduced funding because the school has fewer students.

Carter said property values have dropped by about $17 million since the wildfire broke out in June 2013. The lightning-sparked blaze killed 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, destroyed 127 homes in and around Yarnell and scorched 13 square miles.

"Before the fire was all the way contained, we told people that Yarnell was going to have this problem," Carter said. "Two things happen in a situation like this: property values go down and people leave the area."

The district has cut employees' hours and salaries and pared back art, music, physical education and sports programs. It's also considering a four-day school schedule to save money.

The Model Creek School has four teachers, one administrator and eight staff members. Six of those employees are part time.

Principal Fred Garnett said the district's governing board voted to fund the school for another year, but the budget will remain tight.

"You can look at consolidation, you can look at unification, and you can look at lapsing the district. All of those things have positives and negatives," he said. "There were people who said to close the school and eliminate the district. You can't do that under law."

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