DPS identifies 15 Denver schools for potential closure in coming years

Denver Public Schools has identified 15 schools with sufficiently low enrollment they could close in coming years, though Superintendent Alex Marrero is offering the Board of Education new options to deal with falling student numbers that stop short of just shuttering buildings.

The district’s latest plan to address declining enrollment, which Marrero will present to the school board on Thursday, is broader than last fall’s ultimately rejected proposal to close 10 schools.

It offers several actions — including phasing out grades and “co-locating” schools on the same property — that the board could take beyond simply closing schools with fewer than 215 students. 

DPS’s new proposal includes a longer timeline for most of the schools on the list, with the superintendent expected to present his final recommendation, which would be for the 2024-25 academic year, to the board in September, according to the presentation included in the agenda for Thursday’s school board meeting.

However, three schools — Denver Discovery, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, and Fairview Elementary —  are considered to have “critically low enrollment” and could close this year, depending on the recommendation Marrero presents to the school board in March.

Those schools have fewer than 120 students apiece, with either fewer than 25 incoming kindergarteners or fewer than 50 new sixth-graders enrolling, according to the presentation. Denver Discovery, a middle school, is projected to have just 62 students next year.

For these three schools, Marrero recommends the district engage the community on three potential options:

  • Phasing out grades by not enrolling new kindergarteners or sixth-graders
  • Closing schools and “unifying” their student bodies with other nearby schools
  • Considering “other school community-generated options” 

The other 12 schools are considered to have “concerning enrollment,” meaning they have fewer than 215 students apiece.  Seven of these schools were recommended for closure in the fall.

They are:

  • International Academy of Denver at Harrington
  • Columbian Elementary
  • Schmitt Elementary
  • Hallett Academy
  • Palmer Elementary
  • Kaiser Elementary
  • Whittier K-8
  • Colfax Elementary
  • Eagleton Elementary
  • Ashley Elementary
  • Beach Court Elementary
  • Cole Arts & Sciences Academy 

Marrero is proposing the district spends the next six months engaging the community around several potential outcomes for the schools, including possibly closing them, before he presents his final recommendation to the board in September.

The options proposed by the superintendent include maintaining existing small schools, which means the district would continue to financially subsidize their operations, or phasing out grades by not enrolling new kindergarteners or sixth-graders. The district also could decide to “co-locate” schools in another building, close schools, or revise school boundaries or feeder patterns.

DPS also would be open to considering “community-generated options,” according to the superintendent’s planned presentation to the board.

Districtwide, enrollment has fallen for three consecutive years because of declining births, rising housing prices and gentrification. However, enrollment among elementary-aged children began falling after 2014.

Marrero initially recommended closing 10 schools in the fall, before narrowing the proposal down first to five schools, then two. In November, all but one school board director — Scott Baldermann — voted against closing those two schools, Denver Discovery and Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy.

Now, DPS administrators and the school board are facing a potential $9 million budget shortfall because the district receives less funding when there are fewer students enrolled in its schools.

The district is subsidizing the 15 schools on the list with tens of thousands of dollars — and in at least two cases more than $1 million — to keep them operational, according to the presentation.

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