Denver Public Schools wants to close these 10 schools as enrollment drops

Denver Public Schools, Colorado’s largest school district, is proposing to close 10 elementary and middle schools across the city as early as next year as it faces declining enrollment.

The district’s announcement Tuesday had been highly anticipated by families who feared their children’s school could be on the chopping block, and just last week members of the Board of Education acknowledged they had a difficult task ahead of them in deciding which buildings to shutter.

“We know that these decisions are not easy for our community, but they are necessary for our scholars,” Superintendent Alex Marrero said in a statement. “These recommendations will not only help right-size our school district, they will allow our scholars access to more well-rounded educational experiences, and will also put the school district in a position to better address our staffing needs across the district.”

The district’s proposal calls for the closure of eight elementary schools, one K-8 school and a middle school, and identifies which schools those displaced students would transfer to if the elected Board of Education decides to follow the recommendation.

District officials will present the plan to the school board on Nov. 3. The board will then vote on whether to shutter the schools on Nov. 17.

Here are the schools the district is recommending to close for the 2023-24 academic year:

  • Columbian Elementary, with students going to Trevista at Horace Mann
  • Palmer Elementary, with K-5 students going to Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment. Palmer will become a preschool.
  • Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, with students going to Valverde Elementary
  • Schmitt Elementary, with students going to Godsman Elementary
  • Eagleton Elementary, with students going to Cowell Elementary
  • Fairview Elementary, with K-5 students going to Cheltenham Elementary School
  • Colfax Elementary, with K-5 students going to Cheltenham. Colfax will become a preschool.
  • International Academy of Denver at Harrington, with students entering a new enrollment zone with Columbine Elementary and Swansea Elementary
  • Denver Discovery School, with students entering the Greater Park Hill-Central Park Enrollment Zone
  • Whittier K-8, with students going to schools in the Greater Five Points Elementary Enrollment Zone and the Near Northeast Middle School Enrollment Zone

One school board member, Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, tweeted that he will vote “no” on closing the 10 schools. When asked about his decision, Anderson pointed to a line in an online post he wrote last week when the board was considering whether to close Montbello Career and Technical High School (the board voted to not shutter the school).

“A tool of white supremacy culture is encouraging people of color to fight with each other over the scraps a system decides to make available to us,” Anderson wrote in the post.

“Our students in all of those schools are more than scraps,” he added in a text message.

K-12 schools across the U.S. are seeing fewer students enroll — a trend that is hitting Colorado districts financially as schools are funded based on the number of students that attend. So in response, some districts are closing schools.

Next month, the school board overseeing Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, will vote on whether to close 16 elementary schools. If approved, the decision would displace more than 2,400 students and roughly 400 full-time employees.

Statewide K-12 enrollment fell by 1,174 students to 855,482 pupils in fall 2021. There are multiple reasons for the decline, including shifting populations and declining birth rates.

In Denver, researchers and the district have said gentrification is partly to blame as families struggle to afford housing. Families have worried that the closures will disproportionately affect students of color.

Enrollment at DPS peaked in 2019 and between the fall of that year and the fall of 2021, the district lost more than 3,600 students. DPS’s total enrollment sits at just more than 90,000, according to a report by the district.

And in the past five years, enrollment in the district’s elementary and middle schools has plunged by more than 6,000 students, which has resulted in a loss of $61 million annually for DPS, according to a news release.

DPS has said it expects enrollment to continue to decline by another 3,000 or so elementary and middle school students in the next four years, which would mean the loss of another $36 million in school funding, according to the release.

The district has been consolidating, including slashing jobs in its central office earlier this year.

DPS did not say on Tuesday how many students and employees the school closures will affect. The district said in a news release that all school-based employees will have a “guaranteed role” as teachers and other staff will be able to follow their students to their new school.

In 2021, the district released a list of 19 schools being considered for potential closure before scrapping it and creating the advisory committee that has now suggested shuttering schools based on certain criteria.

That criteria included schools with fewer than 215 students next academic year and schools with fewer than 275 students that will lose between 8% and 10% of their students in the coming years, Chalkbeat Colorado reported.

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