A grass roots group of about 20 families is pushing for consolidation of Hotchkiss and Paonia High Schools. The group is a loosely knit consortium of parents and maintains a website at northforkconsolidate.com. Those wishing to communicate with the group through the website can also remain anonymous.

The upper secondary grades are the group’s immediate focus. This conversation has been underway for several years, and a spokesperson for North Fork Consolidation (NFC) sees the parent-led initiative as the beginning point of a broader conversation with the Delta County School District board. He acknowledges that NFC does not claim to have any concrete plans for the consolidation; however, parents express the importance of bringing the idea before the general population for consideration.

The group lists its reasons for consolidation on the website.

This is not the first time consolidation has come before the district. A wide range of thoughts and ideas regarding the challenges the district faces were expressed in 2016 during a series of information-gathering meetings held at all district high schools.

At the time the district was experiencing declining enrollment and classrooms sat empty in both high schools, and participants generally agreed it’s a complicated topic that needs addressing.

At Paonia, where just over half of the roughly 22 participants worked for the district, school consolidation emerged as a primary topic. Participants expressed concern over the idea, one calling it “the big elephant in the room,” and another saying “it would take the life blood out of whichever community lost their school.”

Others said that while it would be difficult and painful to many, it’s an obvious solution to the funding and enrollment problems the district was facing at the time.

It’s a topic of discussion in many rural districts, which make up roughly 80 percent of the state’s districts, said facilitator Randy Black with the Colorado Association of School Boards. He urged participants to form a committee and further the discussion.

District superintendent Caryn Gibson said during the 2016 meetings that district and leadership teams are frequently asked about consolidation. She advised the district to exhaust every option before taking that step. Once consolidation occurs, Gibson said, “There would no longer be a Paonia High School or Hotchkiss High School. You’d be a North Fork school.”

District superintendent Kurt Clay said the school district does not have plans for consolidation at this time. It is is considering a survey on the needs of North Fork students and attitudes toward consolidation of Delta County. When the survey is complete the leadership of the school board will “decide if there is a need to move forward.”

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