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After protests, planned school boundaries in central Denver get edits

Updated: 7:02 p.m. Denver’s school board unanimously passed a proposal to change the boundaries between Lowry Elementary School and the Denver Green School that does not include the lower income Berkshire Towers or a new addition to Lowry.

7 p.m. New proposal also leaves the Berkshire Towers with Denver Green School rather than moving it to the Lowry boundary.

6:15 p.m. An updated proposal is now on the website. It does not mandate any addition but allows for building future capacity:
More here.

A district plan to change the boundaries between two central Denver schools that attracted parent protest may receive some major edits at the school board meeting tonight.

The original plan would have altered the boundary between the Denver Green School and Lowry Elementary School, adding roughly 150 new students to Lowry over the next several years. Lowry would receive students from three neighborhoods, two relatively affluent neighborhoods and one lower income residential area. The district allocated funds under the 2012 bond measure to build an addition to Lowry this winter to prepare for that influx of students.

But a document posted to the agenda for Thursday night’s school board meeting suggests that the addition may be postponed and the boundaries between the two schools altered slightly. The district had not returned calls for comment as of press time.

The apparent revision comes after months of protests from community members who don’t want the planned boundary changes and addition to move forward. The original plan, which was presented to the board for a vote in September, was delayed twice after drawing criticism from representatives of both school communities and local homeowners associations. Critics said the plan was not presented in advance to the community and did not provide any alternatives for discussion.

“The hard part here is that the community has wanted other alternatives, like building a new school,” said Veronica Figoli, the district’s head of community outreach. “We feel very strongly even back at the bond and mill levy, the money set aside was for a new expansion, not a new school.”

Despite the district’s position, parents at several community forums and a special public comment session Monday have pushed to consider a new school to house the 150 new students at Lowry and reduce class sizes. Their proposed location is the building that once housed Whiteman Elementary School, now the home of the Denver Language School.

“The Denver Language School is outgrowing its space,” said Michael Miller Monday. Miller said he had one child enrolled in the Denver Green School.

Miller and other parents found a supporter in Jeannie Kaplan, an outgoing board member.

“Every time DSST blinks its eye, we build them a school or find them a building,” said Kaplan. According to Kaplan, the boundary changes represent a systemic problem in the district’s approach to central Denver. “To me, this [proposal] doesn’t address the issue in central Denver, which is overcrowding in schools.”

Kaplan also said the capacity issue could be solved by managing the number of students who choose to go to Lowry.

“If the school said no to choice and accepted kids from all the areas, they wouldn’t need an addition,” said Kaplan.

She is not opposed to the boundary change but would like to see discussion about the addition delayed.

Asked why she supported one and not the other, Kaplan said she wanted to support Mayfair Park, one of the neighborhoods affected by the change. Mayfair Park’s neighborhood school is the Denver Green School, which is an innovation school. The president of the Mayfair Park neighborhood association said the neighborhood would like a more traditional neighborhood school.

The discussion around the boundary change has also raised issues of the area’s demographics. The three neighborhoods which would be moved inside the Lowry boundary includes Berkshire Towers, a lower income neighborhood. Lowry currently has 34 percent low income students, compared with 58 percent at the Denver Green School.

Observers at community meetings reported that participants raised the issue of how many more students who receive free and reduced lunch would attend Lowry under the new plan. Others objected to the district’s projections for how many more students the schools could expect, saying they didn’t take into account larger families.

“By changing the boundaries, you are further impoverishing kids,” said David Halterman, a Denver Green School parent. “You’re going to further segregate poor people.”

Another Denver Green school parent commented on wanting “the socioeconomic mixture that benefits all students.”

But for most, the key issue seems to have been the timeline for making a decision and beginning construction of the Lowry addition.

District staffers presented the community with the boundary change plan the same week as the original board vote in September. The district expected to break ground in December on the new addition and begin enrolling students according to the new boundary changes next year.

“I’ve asked myself over and over, what’s the rush to change the boundaries and start a major construction project right now?” said Sara Simmons, a Lowry parent.

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