Mountain View Elementary

Fifth-grade students look over instructions in their Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students booklets before starting the tests in 2013 at Mountain View Elementary School in Mills. Mountain View is the only school left in Mills, but it is in danger of closing after a recommendation by the Natrona County School District.

File, Star-Tribune

Michelle Pederson was already sobbing when she reached the microphone, a short walk from where she was sitting in the back of Mills Town Council chambers.

The Casper resident and Mountain View Elementary grandparent wanted to talk about the school, wanted to tell the Council about why her daughter chose it. But she had trouble getting the words out. She apologized and told herself not to cry. She started and stopped again.

Mills Mayor Seth Coleman told her to take her time.

“This just angers me,” she finally said. “My daughter lives across from Oregon Trail. They didn’t want to go to Oregon Trail. They decided to go to Mountain View.”

She started to choke up again and spoke in sentences that started and stopped.

“Close-knit family. Everybody knows everybody,” Pederson said. She paused, inhaled and start crying again. “I’ll be damned if I’ll have them take our Mountain View.”

Friday afternoon, a week after the Natrona County School District announced that its board was considering closing Mountain View and three Casper schools, the Mills Town Council approved a resolution opposing the shuttering of the community’s last school.

“The Town of Mills wants to be clear that we have had no input or communication with the Natrona County School District on this matter, and we adamantly disagree with the recommendation to close Mountain View Elementary School,” Coleman said, reading a statement from the Council.

“We believe residents of our community deserve to attend neighborhood schools,” he continued.

After the Council approved the motion opposing the recommendation, a handful of the dozen attendees took to the lectern to oppose the district’s proposal. They asked what made a town a town, what Mills was doing to keep Mountain View open, whether Mills could form its own, independent school district.

“That would be very, very difficult,” the town attorney advised.

Mostly, the speakers said they had questions for the district, questions that Council members said they had themselves. No official from the school district spoke at the meeting, though spokeswoman Tanya Southerland attended.

Parent Megan Fleetwood said she didn’t want to drive her kids outside of Mills, nor did she want to put them on a bus. She asked the Council if they would attend the next school board meeting on Oct. 9 to fight for Mountain View.

The board will formally vote to approve the recommendation at its meeting on Oct. 23.

“I want to make sure you guys really are behind us,” Fleetwood told the Council.

“We are,” Coleman replied.

“We’re fighting the same battles you are,” Councilwoman Darla Ives said later.

After the meeting adjourned, Coleman said the Council had been considering their resolution for the past two days. They’d received emails and phone calls from angry community members.

“It’s an asset you can’t put a value on to have a school,” he said.

Coleman said it would’ve been “helpful” if the district had been in contact with Mills. In June, Mills Elementary closed. Coleman said the Council had “no inkling” that was happening, either, until officials announced it last year.

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Star-Tribune reporter Seth Klamann covers local and statewide education issues.

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