The painful process of school closures has arrived in Colorado’s largest school district.
Denver Public Schools announced Tuesday that 10 elementary and middle schools with fewer than 215 students are recommended for closure and “unification” with other schools. The district said each school is within 2 miles of another school with available capacity.
Nine of the 10 schools have a student body that is over 85% students of color, and eight of 10 have a free and discounted lunch population of 80% or more.
- Colombian elementary school will merge with Trevista in Trevista.
- Palmer Elementary School will merge with the Montclair School of Academics and Montclair ECE K-5 Enrichment Classes in Palmer.
- Mathematical Sciences Leadership Academy (MSLA) will merge with Valverde Elementary in Valverde.
- Schmitt Elementary School will merge with Godsman Elementary at Godsman.
- Eagleton Elementary School will merge with Cowell Elementary in Cowell.
- Fairview Elementary and Colfax Elementary will merge with K-5 classes in Cheltenham and ECE in Colfax.
- Denver International Academy at Harrington will merge with Columbine Elementary and Swansea Elementary into a new enrollment area with Columbine and Swansea.
- Denver Discovery School will merge with schools in the Greater Park Hill – Central Park enrollment area.
- Whittier K-8 will merge with schools in the Greater Five Points Elementary Enrollment Area and Near Northeast Middle School Enrollment Area.
The recommendation will be presented to the district school board on Thursday, November 3. The board will vote on the list of schools recommended for consolidation on Thursday, November 17. A public comment session is scheduled for Monday, November 14. Schools would not be consolidated or closed until the 2023-24 school year at the earliest.
“We know these decisions are not easy for our community, but they are necessary for our scholars,” DPS Superintendent Marrero said in a press release. “These recommendations will not only help to right-size our school district, they will provide our scholars with access to more comprehensive educational experiences and will also position the school district to better meet our district-wide staffing needs.”
Why are schools merging?
At first glance, the reasoning behind school closures is simple. Falling birth rates and rising house prices are pushing people out of Denver, leading to lower enrollment. Schools receive state and local funding for each student in the building. When enrollment drops too low in a school, it cannot afford fixed costs such as building maintenance, adequate teachers, or the specialized support children need, such as a part-time psychologist, after-school programs, or gifted and talented programs.
But the actions of former school boards and superintendents also play a role. Analysis by Chalkbeat found that over the past two decades, the district has been adding schools faster than students. During this period, it opened 142 new schools, both state-funded charter schools and district-operated schools, although 60 were closed, with charter schools expanding and closing at a faster pace. The end result is a lower school-to-student ratio, according to the analysis. Primary school enrollment peaked in 2014 and middle school enrollment peaked in 2018.
DPS lost 3,600 students, or 3% of total students, between 2019 and 2021. Denver expects to lose about 3,000 more students over the next four years. That means an annual loss of $36 million for schools, which means smaller schools have to be subsidized by the district just to keep the doors open. The district says schools with the biggest declines in enrollment cost about 50% more per student. Additionally, many small schools have to combine classes into a single classroom.
How did the district decide which schools to recommend for closure?
In June, an advisory committee on declining enrollment set out three criteria to identify schools to consolidate or close.
- Schools with fewer than 215 students
- Schools of 275 students with a forecast decline of 8% to 10% over the next two years
- Charter schools that have been financially insolvent for more than two years. No charter schools are on the list.
Equity guidelines also guided the committee, such as giving students with unique needs access to special programs, the district said.
Once the criteria were applied, the committee then applied “fairness safeguards”. This includes reviewing student access to specialized programs, such as autism or bilingual programs offered under a federal consent decree that Denver follows.
“We recognize the difficulty of these decisions and are committed to humanizing this process beyond what has traditionally happened across the country when school closures and consolidations have had to take place,” Marrero said in a statement. an October press release.
DPS officials said it was impossible to fulfill the district’s mission to provide every child with an equitable education and services in small schools.
The process of closing schools in districts across the country is often unpopular, painful and difficult. Families feel connected to teachers, staff and other parents and children. Schools can also be community centers, where parents can tap into life support systems.
Marrero said in a letter to families last week that “school consolidation is about bringing communities together to address declining enrollment, not because of school performance issues.”
The affected neighborhoods of the city
The schools recommended for closure are in various neighborhoods, most in the south and west/central areas of the city.
The northwest area of the city is expected to see a sharp drop in student numbers in the gentrifying neighborhoods of southwest, north, and northwest Denver, particularly West Colfax and the neighborhoods of Elyria and from Swansea. Already, the school-age population has decreased by 20% in these two neighborhoods.