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The Haswell K-8 School was built in 1963 when the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the county’s countryside were consolidated into two districts. This school building in Haswell as well as the high school building in Eads and the Plainview K-12 school were all built in 1962-1963 as part of the county’s consolodation efforts.
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Long Time Gone: When Haswell Lost Their School

By Betsy Barnett

July 26, 2023

More than 30 years later it’s a difficult subject to approach because out here in Kiowa County, and really all small towns across the country, people learn to get along even when major disagreements and hurtful outcomes threaten to tear the community apart. They have to, because when it comes down to it, we realize we are all doing the best we can and we have to learn to move on because we only have each other even when we sometimes adamantly disagree with our family members, neighbor, fellow workers, and the general community.

The town of Haswell lost their elementary school in early 1992 when the Kiowa County RE-1 School District board was in a major financial crunch after years of trying to balance the ever-rising school budgets with dismal state funding formulas during the 1980s. That decade, and into the 1990s, represented a time when rural Colorado lost a great deal of population as farmers went under and banks closed. The district’s budget had been cut dramatically in prior years, but the situation in 1990 and 1991 was getting to a crisis level where the district was facing possible insolvency.

As budget discussions began for the 1992-1993 school year the school board knew they were up against the wall and voted in February 1992, in a meeting that had so many people present they had to hold it in the school’s gymnasium, to close the Haswell K-8 School and bus the remaining students to Eads. The community and the board were split down the very middle and in many cases, it didn’t matter if a person lived in Eads or Haswell. The disagreement was philosophical. One side pragmatic weighing the few against the whole and thus went for downsizing to save the district. The other side idealistic knowing what Haswell had been in its hey day—much like Mayberry, USA—and also knowing that it was more important to keep the school open because when a community loses their school, their place to gather and support their children, they slowly lose the community.

After the district closed the Haswell K-8 School doors for good the community did suffer as some moved their children to other schools further away, some homeschooled their children, and some put them on the bus heading to Eads every day. But the community did rally and after a few years decided to use the special little school building that was built in 1963—during the days of consolidation when Eads and Plainview Schools were also built—in a new way. They turned it into a community center for all the citizens to enjoy and utilize in a myriad number of ways. After all, that’s what it really had been all along, and although the school bells fell silent the children’s voices are still heard to this day in the building as a new generation—a handful of children—still play basketball in the gym and attend parties and community get-togethers just like they did in those magical times before the crisis years of the 1980s and 1990s.

The following is a reprint of an article from the Pueblo Chieftain that came out after that controversial night in February of 1992 when a deep divide was evident within the community. Some 30 years later we have moved on and those involved have been able to bury the hatchet and get along. That’s what we have to do in a small community where we only have ourselves and each other to depend on.

Closure of Tiny School Stirs Emotions in Haswell

By JUAN ESPINOZA, The Pueblo Chieftain

Kiowa County citizens who work the farms and ranches along this stretch of Colorado 96 are trying to avoid another “tragedy of Chivington.”

“The tragedy of Chivington, is that after they closed the school there, there’s practically no town left. People just packed up and left,” explained Tina Johnston.

At an intense meeting in Eads Tuesday, the Kiowa school board voted 4-3 to close the Haswell School. After the vote, board president Mike Reystead, of Haswell, resigned. His resignation was not accepted by the other board members because it was not an agenda item.

The outcome of the vote was anticipated and supporters of keeping the Haswell School open were ready. As the more than 150 people left the meeting, they were asked to sign petitions calling for the recall of board members who voted for the closure.

According to Mrs. Johnston, the petitioners collected enough signatures within 24 hours of the meeting to demand a recall election of school board members Kirk Barlow, Betty Crow, LaVerle Kelley and Louis James.

Despite early success, the group is continuing to circulate the petitions because they expect them to be closely scrutinized.

Two of the public officials who will be involved in verifying the signatures on the recall petitions are subjects of the effort. Ms. Crow is Kiowa County Clerk and as such will provide the list of registered voters against which names will be checked.

As school board secretary, James is the official who will receive the petitions and normally would determine whether they meet the legal requirements to force a recall election.

James said the board has not discussed whether to seek assistance from a neutral third party in verifying signatures.

“My understanding is that they would be turning in the petitions to me, but that they would be reviewed by the whole board,” James said Thursday. “I am sensitive of that problem and would like to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interests.”

The problem stems from the school funding crisis that affects nearly every school district in Colorado. The school board needs to trim $150,000 to balance its budget. The closing of Haswell’s school next fall would result in an annual savings of $80,000.

Citizens in Arlington, Haswell and the surrounding countryside argue that they pay more than $265,000 in tax revenues to the district. In addition, the 24 students attending Haswell Elementary (K-8) bring in an additional $70,000 in state school finance funding.

But more than taxes and their school, citizens of western Kiowa County say they are trying to save their towns. In their heyday, they were the center of a major cattle shipping industry.

Today, there are only three businesses left in Haswell — a co-op and grain elevator, a propane and gas station, and a slaughter house, said Barbara Stavely.

Mrs. Stavely finds it ironic that the nation is trying to get back to the kind of basic education students receive in the four-room school. She has an answer for those who say the school is underused.

“The road runs both ways,” she said. “Why aren’t they busing some of their kids over here to give them a good education?”

Losing their school and sending their children to Eads will undermine the hopes of ever rebuilding Haswell, she said.

“If our school goes, our businesses are going to be hurt and land values will go down,” she said. “We have a nice little town. We don’t need to be shutting businesses or schools. This town is almost a ghost town as it is.”

Mrs. Johnston, a substitute teacher, described an art project made recently by her daughter, Tau Lyn. The second-grader built a mobile dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hanging from a cloud which read, “I have a dream,” were three smaller clouds. One read, “For the world — no more wars,” another read, “For my nation — no more falling houses,” and the third, “For my community — please save our school.”

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