DENVER — Denver Public Schools (DPS) on Tuesday released a list of 10 elementary and middle schools the district is recommending for closure.
DPS previously said it would close several elementary and middle schools to make up for a budget shortfall caused by declining enrollment.
The school board approved criteria to close schools with fewer than 215 students, as well as schools with fewer than 275 students and a projected decline in enrollment.
Tuesday, Denver Public Schools said they will recommend the following closures for the 2023-2024 school year:
- Columbian Elementary in Sunnyside will unify with Trevista at Trevista.
- Palmer Elementary in Hale will unify with Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment K-5 grades at Montclair and ECE at Palmer.
- Math Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) in Athmar Park will unify with Valverde Elementary at Valverde.
- Schmitt Elementary in Ruby Hill will unify with Godsman Elementary at Godsman.
- Eagleton Elementary in Villa Park will unify with Cowell Elementary at Cowell.
- Fairview Elementary in Sun Valley and Colfax Elementary in West Colfax will unify with K-5 grades at Cheltenham and ECE at Colfax.
- International Academy of Denver at Harrington in Clayton will unify with Columbine Elementary and Swansea Elementary in a new enrollment zone with Columbine and Swansea.
- Denver Discovery School in Central Park will unify with schools in the Greater Park Hill - Central Park Enrollment zone.
- Whittier K-8 in Whittier will unify with schools in the Greater Five Points Elementary Enrollment Zone and the Near Northeast Middle School Enrollment Zone.
DPS said the plan will be presented to the seven-member Board of Education on Nov. 3. Parents can offer their input during a school board meeting on Nov. 14. The board will vote on the recommendation on Nov. 17.
Dr. Alex Marrero, superintendent of DPS, said he will present the list as a slate of 10 to the school board. He said the board members can vote for or against the entire slate, or they can look at the schools individually.
The proposed closures would affect more than 1,700 students, DPS said.
Marrero said the 10 schools are the result of criteria developed by the district's Declining Enrollment Advisory Committee. The group included parents in some of the impacted areas.
This process took several years to complete.
"The most important reason for this is I know there are many students who are sparked in terms of their curiosity and interest when they explore some of the trades or the arts," Marrero said. "It has become impossible for us to provide robust programming in these small schools."
DPS said in the past five years, elementary and middle school enrollment has declined by more than 6,000 students, resulting in a loss of $61 million annually in taxes. They also expect an additional loss of approximately 3,000 elementary and middle school students over the next four years, resulting in an additional loss of $36 million in funding.
Marrero said declining birth rates, gentrification and skyrocketing home prices are some of the factors impacting enrollment in these areas. DPS said the situation has caused their smallest schools to struggle to provide consistent staffing, robust academics and enrichment programs.
DPS said enrollment was a major reason for this decision, but it wasn't the only factor the district looked at to create the list.
"Beach Court Elementary that is in the very north part of our region, there is no other school close to that school, so it is not on the list. Same thing with Kaiser down south," he said.
The school district doesn't plan to sell the buildings. Instead, they're looking to repurpose the properties into early childhood centers.
"We are going to potentially save $7.5 to $8 million in terms of repurposing and making sure our students have even more of an opportunity to thrive," Marrero said.
According to the Colorado Department of Education's 2021-2022 Pupil Membership data by race and ethnicity, which tracks the number of students, a majority of the schools on the closure list serve a majority of students who are Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino.
"It seems like what tends to happen in Denver and also in our country is that our students of color, our communities of color really take the brunt of these choices," Denver Classroom Teachers Association President Robert Gould said.
Gould believes several other factors come into play for why school consolidations and closures occur, including the frequency of building schools.
"We opened up a lot of schools in the last 10 and 12 years, many of them charter schools -- more schools than we can handle. But now we're talking about which schools are we closing? We're talking about closing traditional schools," he said.
He said the cost of living could also play a role.
Students from the closed schools would be assigned to the nearby campuses, but would also have the opportunity to apply to other schools through the district's standard open enrollment process, the district said.
Should the vote push the closure process through, Gould worries it could add to an already tense situation for some students who experienced school during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"But the students coming out of that, here they are going through another type of trauma again. And so we need to make sure that whatever we do, we're supporting that component," he said. "And let's figure out what we need to do to have better funding for our schools and more of this mental health support, more of those wraparound services. And let's really invest in our education so that our students can get what they need."
Manuel Aragon's daughter goes to Colfax Elementary. She may have to go to another school a mile away if the school board approves the district's recommendation.
The school primarily serves Black and Hispanic students. Aragon is concerned about what will happen to those kids and their families.
"I think a lot of them won’t get the services they need that schools like Colfax provides from them," Aragon said. "I think this is going to be, for a lot of them, the final step of moving out of Denver."
DPS said all school-based staff will have a guaranteed role, and they are offering teachers and other staff the opportunity to follow their current students to the unifying school.
The next step for the association, Gould said, is reaching out to staff at schools on the closure list and asking if they need any support.
"We've been talking about it for a long time and it looks like these decisions are inevitable," he said. "But what is it that we need to make sure that this doesn't happen again?"
Each affected school will host community meetings in the coming days and weeks to allow school leaders to hear from families and provide direction for the next steps, the district said.
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