MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Donna King speaks in the friendly and reassuring tone of someone who has spent a lifetime teaching. Her favorite subject is the passion of her professional career.
Since 1993 King has been the driving force keeping Duette Elementary open. ” I came in 1993. It was my dream to come here. There was one teacher here when I came. she retired,” King said.
Dutte has been a fixture in rural Manatee County for decades.
“Duette School opened in 1930 and at that time there were three one-room schools in this area. When Duette School opened it was what in Florida was called a strawberry school. A strawberry school is closed from December to June because the children work in the fields picking strawberries,” King said.
Now it is the last remaining one-room school house in Florida – although technically it’s not just one room. “When you come in the building you see it’s not a one-room building, but it is a one-room school because all students are in one classroom with one teacher,” King explained.
In 2009 when King wanted to retire, the Manatee County Schools decided to drop Duette Elementary as a school.
The community formed a 501(C)3 to keep the school open and contracted with the Manatee County district to keep operating the school.
Duette does receive state funding, but because the enrollment is dwindling, so are the funds.
King says the state funding is just enough to pay a teacher and not enough to maintain operating funds for the school. King says she hasn’t taken a salary of her own in some time, just so the school can keep it’s doors open.
“I do that well because I love it. It’s what I was born to do, but also for the children. I said many years ago as long as there are students who want to come to this school, I will come and teach,” King said.
Now she is preparing to retire again and this time she says it’s for real. She plans to travel, to see Alaska and other far off locations, but she will return to Duette.
She would love to see the school remain open, perhaps as a charter school or even as a museum. It could stay open if another teacher could step in and take it on as their life’s work as King has.
“But that has not happened. So now it looks like the school will close and the district is concerned about maintaining it,” King said.
Community members plan to meet at 7:00 p.m. Friday to discuss the future of the school and the possibility of keeping it open in some form.
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