The North Routt Preschool was vacant early Friday afternoon. The school closed abruptly Monday and was the subject of a special meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Friday afternoon where the small school in Clark was given a $25,000 zero-interest loan that must be repaid by Dec. 31, 2012.

Photo by John F. Russell

The North Routt Preschool was vacant early Friday afternoon. The school closed abruptly Monday and was the subject of a special meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Friday afternoon where the small school in Clark was given a $25,000 zero-interest loan that must be repaid by Dec. 31, 2012.

North Routt Preschool gets bailout from county

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners cut a $25,000 check Friday evening to North Routt Preschool’s new board of directors, which said the money would allow the school to open Monday after being closed for a week.

The commissioners unanimously approved a zero-interest loan that must be paid back by Dec. 31, 2012, according to the terms. But they acknowledged the funds could become a gift.

“I can tell you guys right now, having been involved for over 23 years with the preschool in South Routt, that these operations are not money-making operations,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. “If we put another debt on them, they’ll never be able to survive. I question whether they’ll be able to survive, anyway. I hope they will, but it’s really, really tough.”

The motion included a provision that required the preschool’s board to inform the county about how it spent the money.

Kerri Ann Crocker, the preschool board’s new secretary and treasurer, said preschool Director Hillary Ackerman resigned Sept. 15. She said Ackerman informed parents Sunday evening that she would close the school that serves 17 students, not all of whom attend full time.

Crocker, a parent, said she and other parents were informed Monday night that the preschool couldn’t pay its teachers.

The more than $624,000 school was built in 2006 on a 5-acre site off Routt County Road 129 in Clark. Of that, $330,000 was provided through a Colorado Department of Local Affairs Community Development Block Grant, which required a government agency sponsor.

Routt County accepted liability for the grant, which required that at least 51 percent of the families receiving services from the preschool be considered low- to moderate-income for five years, said Vickie Clark, director of Routt County Department of Human Services. She said that clock started in October 2007.

Clark said Department of Local Affairs officials told her Thursday and Friday that the county wouldn’t be held financially liable if the preschool closed.

Yampa Valley Bank provided the rest of the funding for the school, a more than $294,000 loan. The loan and “errors from the past administration” led to the financial hardship, Crocker said. She said the preschool still owes more than $200,000 and is working to get a low-interest, long-term loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Reading from a prepared letter to commissioners, Crocker asked for $40,379.08 to pay what the preschool owes to be able to reopen. After reading the letter, she said board members made calls to find out whether the figure was accurate and determined some fees had been reduced or waived, which cut the amount owed to $29,165.89.

The figure includes fees for utilities, operating materials, insurance, payroll including payroll taxes owed to the IRS, two months’ mortgage and snowplowing from last winter. Crocker said the board is in the early stages of looking into what it owes, including the payroll taxes.

County Finance Director Dan Strnad asked, given the amount of money, if the board suspected any misappropriation of funds.

“We don’t have enough knowledge to know exactly how this got this far or how long it’s been going this direction or why,” new board member Katie Bessey said.

She, Crocker and interim board president Brandon LaChance are three of four new members of a five-member board of directors that meets quarterly. They said the board is working to figure out what the school’s operating expenses are and how to generate enough revenue to provide the school with a sustainable future.

The school will open Monday with two part-time directors, a charter school teacher, a community member who has credentials required by the state and two teachers. The school will not be able to provide services for infants.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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