From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Some longtime Colton and Uniontown residents are collaborating in an attempt to keep their little school filled with students.
Two developers, a real estate agent and the Colton School superintendent hope their plans will attract more families to the southeastern Whitman County towns and keep the school running for decades.
"These small towns are wonderfully located," Colton Superintendent Dale Foley said. "I've always thought if we had the lots and houses available, they'd go. If you dwindle too small, it's hard to offer a good program."
Foley said he's known people who wanted their children to attend Colton School but couldn't find an adequate house to buy in Colton or Uniontown.
Declining enrollment numbers can be devastating for rural school budgets. Each Colton student accounts for $8,112.87 in state funding, Foley said.
"The smaller a school is, the more meaningful a student is in terms of funding," Foley said.
Colton School has stayed steady at about 170 students for the last few years. Its 14-member senior class - 8 percent of its student body - will graduate this year, and an equal number of kindergartners will arrive in the fall.
That's not always the case.
"Once in a while we get a big class, but they average about 20 per grade level," Foley said. "They just don't always come in nice, easy numbers."
The numbers also are about equal in regard to the families who live in Pullman and send their children to school in Colton and vice versa. This is due to a state law that allows families to choose their public school.
"Many families want the small-school experience," Foley said. "Growth in the community is the best way to grow the school."
Other rural communities are facing a similar predicament. The Palouse and Garfield school districts placed newspaper advertisements last spring in an effort to attract families with children. The Colton School Board also has discussed publicizing its district, Foley said, "but not in a sophisticated way."
One of the newest families in Colton's new Southview development already had their children enrolled in the Colton School, despite living in Pullman.
Clark and Megan Vining moved into their new home in Colton in May. Clark has taught history and physical education at Colton School since 1999, and also serves as the high school football and girls' basketball coach. The Vinings' son, Luke, 7, and daughter, Rylee, 4, will attend the Colton School through high school.
"I like how small the school is. It gives students a chance for one-on-one instruction. We lose out on some opportunities, but kids can participate in a lot more activities," Vining said. "As far as athletics go, kids get to play more."
Vining also likes how well students and families know each other.
"My friends on the west side are dealing with gangs, and at Colton we get irritated because someone wore a hat to school," he said.
The brothers who are developing the Southview neighborhood both are graduates of Colton School. Greg and Art Schultheis have developed 28 lots in the last three years, and are selling them for $43,000 to $63,000. Eighteen of the 28 lots have sold and the Schultheises are looking to create another subdivision of 30 lots across the road from Southview.
"It's an ideal location for young families," Greg said. "There are great schools - both Colton and the Catholic school. There's a little more space to spread out.
"We feel we can offer more with a larger lot than you can get in Pullman or Moscow."
Dale and Leslee Miller are building Rolling Hills, a community of 44 lots for single-family houses in Uniontown. The Millers moved to Uniontown in 1989 and one of their three children graduated from Colton School in 1994 in a class of 13 students.
"It's a great little school district and we loved the small classes," Leslee said. "They really care about the kids and it was a real positive change for us."
Leslee said she noticed a demand for housing while working as Uniontown city clerk, a job she held for nine years.
"So many people walked in and said, 'My wife works in Lewiston and I work in Pullman and we want to live in between,' " she said.
The Millers just finished paving streets and creating utility infrastructure for their first 14 lots and construction on the first house begins later this month. Some of the sites are large enough to accommodate horses.
Scott Heitstuman graduated with Schultheis from Colton School in 1987 and has two children attending the school - Andrew, 18, and Melinda, 15. He and his wife, Erin, have a 4-month-old baby and have no intentions of leaving Uniontown.
They both commute to work at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman.
"We're 80 miles from a traffic jam," Erin said.
"I enjoy the quiet, laid-back town," Scott added. "Everybody knows everybody's business. The Colton School is outstanding."
The Heitstumans are hoping to convince Andrew to commute 13 miles south to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston this fall.
Colton Realtor Norm Mack is personally committed to enticing homebuyers to Colton. He has sold several lots in Southview and is working on selling lots in Rolling Hills as well.
"It's very much a personal mission," he said.
Mack said Colton is so close-knit that he's lived there 28 years and is "still an outsider."
"School and church are the main activities, and my kids have graduated and I'm not a Catholic," he said.
He and other businesspeople in the communities also want to attract more commercial properties. Foley said there is a need for more day care in Colton and Uniontown. There are two day-care operations in Colton.
"Development will help double the number of kindergartners," Foley said. "Young families need affordable homes and have day-care needs. It's not as simple as having a bunch of lots for sale. A small town has some real challenges.
"Services need to follow houses, so we could use some growth there, too. The school can absorb some growth without having to expand," he added. "I can't sell real estate; I'm just for signs of life and growth."