Back when Arizona was still trying to get around to the idea of statehood, the ranch families in and around Skeleton Canyon decided that education for their children would be a good thing.  After all, Geronimo had surrendered with his band of Apache warriors in Skeleton Canyon in 1886, making the idea of having children altogether in a school house no longer as dangerous a proposition.  With the purchase of a parcel of land to be used for a school in 1914 from Jane and J.J. Wheeler at the astronomical price of $25.00, Apache Elementary school, which had been operating since 1910, had found a home.  Given the natural cycle of births and deaths in a large piece of territory housing a relatively small population, the number of students educated in the one room school house in Apache, Arizona also waxed and waned.  Some years, the number of students would be as high as 20; during one year, sometime during the 1960’s-70’s, there was only one child educated at the school!   This year, Apache Elementary has six students enrolled.

The ranchers, most of whom had been educated there themselves, have continued to send their children and grandchildren to Apache for the education and for the solid foundation of living in the community of the school.  School plays often include potlucks with the entire community turning out to support that year’s crop of students.  Whether one child or six or twenty, the ranching community surrounding Apache does not begrudge paying the taxes, including the small school tax rate, to keep the school open.  Ranch families who have been in the area nearly as long as Apache has been a school are elected to school board; a heritage of service to those who follow where they had been.

As in any one room school, the older children help explain concepts to the younger children.  Older children also have concepts from lower grades reinforced when they listen to the younger children’s instruction.  Younger children can progress as quickly as their inquisitiveness and learning takes them, because they can eavesdrop on and then participate in the older children’s lessons.  Having a teacher for 6 or 8 or 15 children, ranging in age from kindergarten to 8th grade, brings the concept of “individualized education” home.  In this learning environment, the teacher, along with a part-time aide, found her school ranked as an “A” school.

When the children finally graduated from the eighth grade, they were older, more mature, and ready to ride into Douglas or San Simon or even Animas, New Mexico for high school.  The graduates from Apache Elementary school do well in the larger schools, having been given a solid foundation in their elementary education and knowing their own worth.  Some, after graduating from colleges and universities, return to their family ranches.  Others have gone on to become professionals like a veterinarian and a doctor.   None, apparently, have been involved in a mass shooting or become attorneys.

In 1981, the Arizona legislature added A.R.S. §15-469.  A.R.S. §15-469 provides that if a common school has a student count of fewer than eight students between the ages of six and twenty-one for three months, that the County School Superintendent may at once suspend the common school and report the reason to the County Board of Supervisors at their next meeting.  The County Board of Supervisors may then “lapse” the district, rolling it into an adjoining school district, disposing of the school’s property, and apply the proceeds to the credit of the lapsed district with the balance, after all bonds are paid, being transferred to the County school fund.  After weathering over a century of ups and downs in its student population, including over three decades of Cochise County School Superintendents choosing to not utilize their discretion to close the Apache Elementary District, this spring, the Cochise County School Superintendent informed Apache Elementary School that the doors of their one room school house would be closed as of May 15, several days before the scheduled end of the school term then in progress.  The community turned out to a Board meeting where the County School Superintendent was meeting with the Board to express their outrage over the closure that was to occur just a few days from then.

At the meeting, information was provided that the Apache Elementary District had one of the lower tax rates in the County.  As the school had long ago been paid off, there were no outstanding bonds or overrides.  The school has four employees: the head teacher, the part-time aide, the part-time bus driver, and (my personal favorite) the business manager/janitor.   There is no superintendent, no secretary, no other “staff.”   Most of the budget, then, goes toward actual classroom education in the form of the teacher and the aide’s salaries.   Despite the school’s educational rating, despite the focus on the children, and the relatively young ages for children to be transported for close to an hour each way, the County School Superintendent was clear that it was her belief that it was a waste of taxpayer money to maintain a school with a $136,563.00 Maintenance and Operation budget and an additional $14,491.00 in forest fees to educate six children[1].

She also explained that if she suspended the operation of the school, the school remained closed, even if the County Board of Supervisors did not choose to lapse the school into another District.  The school would just become “unincorporated territory” or a “transportation district.”  It would not, in her opinion, revert to being an operating school.  By the end of the meeting, the County School Superintendent did agree to rescind her closure of the Apache Elementary School; however, she did inform the school district that she would be back in the fall.  This served as a clear warning that, come the fall, if the school population was not at least eight in number, that she could suspend operations at that time.

The Apache Elementary District, one of four[2] remaining one room schools in the State, is now seeking legislative help to remain open.  Whether or not it will be successful in its bid to remain open is still to be seen.  If it is closed, it will truly be the end of an era in Arizona history.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Candyce B. Pardee at  928.373.3409, log on to,  or contact an attorney in your area.


[1] From this budget, the Business Manager projects annual spending to be $123,933.00.

[2] Apache, Blue, Crown King, and Hillside. This year Crown King had no students.