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What you need to know about Denver’s school closure recommendation

Chairs upside-down on a table and two empty chairs sit in an empty classroom.

The Denver school board is set to vote Nov. 17 on a recommendation to close 10 schools.

Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post

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Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero has recommended closing 10 elementary and middle schools because of declining enrollment. It’s a controversial recommendation that’s getting pushback from affected families and even some decision-makers.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Which schools is Denver recommending for closure?

Columbian Elementary. Students would be reassigned to Trevista at Horace Mann, though any student in Denver can apply to attend any school in the district.

Palmer Elementary. Most students would be reassigned to Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment. Preschool students would stay at Palmer, which would become an early childhood education center.

Math Science Leadership Academy. Students would be reassigned to Valverde Elementary.

Schmitt Elementary. Students would be reassigned to Godsman Elementary.

Eagleton Elementary. Students would be reassigned to Cowell Elementary.

Fairview Elementary. Students would be reassigned to Cheltenham Elementary.

Colfax Elementary. Most students would be reassigned to Cheltenham Elementary. Preschool students would stay at Colfax, which would become an ECE center.

International Academy of Denver at Harrington. Students would join a new enrollment zone containing Columbine Elementary and Swansea Elementary, which means students could choose to attend either Columbine or Swansea.

Denver Discovery School. Students could choose among the five other middle schools in the Greater Park Hill/Central Park Enrollment Zone. Enrollment zones encompass the boundaries of several schools. Students who live in zones are guaranteed a seat at one of the schools, though not necessarily the school closest to their home.

Whittier ECE-8. K-5 students could choose among three other elementary schools in the Greater Five Points Elementary Enrollment Zone. Middle school students could choose among the three other middle schools in the Near Northeast Middle School Enrollment Zone.

Updated: After initially recommending 10 schools for closure, Marrero released a new, shorter list of five schools that receive the largest budget subsidies. Those schools are his top priority for closure, but other schools on the list could still be closed. The priority schools are: Denver Discovery School, Schmitt Elementary, Fairview Elementary, International Academy of Denver at Harrington, and Math and Science Leadership Academy

2. When would the schools close?

The 10 schools would close at the end of this school year. 

According to the proposed timeline, the students from the closing schools would go to the receiving schools next school year, 2023-24. The two communities would spend the year re-envisioning programming that would start in 2024-25.

3. What would happen to the buildings?

In a presentation, the district said it does not intend to sell any buildings. “In cases where whole or partial buildings will be vacant, we will work with the community to solicit input and make recommendations on what to do with that building,” the presentation says.

4. How did the superintendent choose those schools?

Marrero recommended closing Denver elementary and middle schools with fewer than 215 students this year, not counting preschoolers.

That criteria was one of three recommended by a committee of parents, teachers, and community members. The committee also recommended looking at schools with fewer than 275 students that expect to lose 8% to 10% more students in the next couple of years and charter schools that are financially insolvent, but Marrero didn’t apply those criteria this time.

However, Marrero said he also considered geography. Eight of the 10 schools recommended for closure have another school or schools within 2 miles with enough space to receive their students, he said. Two of the 10 would join existing enrollment zones

Six of the 10 Denver schools recommended for closure offer bilingual education for Spanish-speaking students known as Transitional Native Language Instruction, or TNLI. Marrero said the district made sure students from those schools could continue either TNLI or dual-language programming at a nearby school. 

5. Why are other small schools not on the list?

District administrators spared four other schools with less than 215 students: Ashley Elementary, Beach Court Elementary, Kaiser Elementary, and Hallett Academy. Marrero said it was because there is no other school within 2 miles with room for so many new students.

In the cases of Ashley and Beach Court, the would-be receiving schools, Montclair and Trevista, would already be getting students from Palmer and Columbian, district staff said.

In the case of Hallett Academy, there are three elementary schools within 2 miles: Stedman, Smith, and Park Hill. But district staff said none of those schools have enough open seats to accommodate all of Hallett’s students.

And Kaiser doesn’t have any other elementaries nearby.

6. Why weren’t preschool students counted in enrollment?

The short answer is that preschool is funded differently. 

The longer answer gets at why Denver is recommending school closures in the first place. Denver’s schools are funded per student. But that per-pupil funding, most of which comes from the state, is only for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Schools with fewer students have less money, which means they struggle to afford staff. Small schools might have to cut classes like art or music, combine two grade levels into one classroom, or have a part-time psychologist instead of a full-time one. 

Marrero said providing all students with a well-rounded education will be “almost impossible” without consolidating schools. The district subsidizes schools with fewer than 215 students, but officials said it’s expensive. This year, the district is spending $7.5 million on subsidies.

Preschool, on the other hand, is funded with a combination of parent-paid tuition, city sales taxes, and federal and state funding, so it wasn’t part of the closure calculus.

7. Are the receiving schools big enough?

The district says yes, though some parents and community members are questioning if that’s true, especially in light of planned housing developments that may yield more students.

Here is a breakdown of the capacity of each receiving school and the enrollment the district says it expects if all students from the closing schools go to the receiving schools.

Trevista: Capacity is 855 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 583.

Montclair: Capacity is 511 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 455.

Valverde: Capacity is 510 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 393.

Godsman: Capacity is 739 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 483.

Cowell: Capacity is 598 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 515.

Cheltenham: Capacity is 644 students. Combined enrollment is projected to be 555.

Swansea and Columbine: The total capacity of the two schools is 1,115 students. The combined enrollment of the three schools that would be in the zone is projected to be 816.

8. Who will make the final decision and when?

The seven-member school board has the final say. The board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation on Nov. 17. To pass, the recommendation needs a majority vote.

But at least three board members have said they can’t support the recommendation, and others have raised questions about a process they said has eroded the community’s trust.

The board is hosting a public comment session Nov. 14 to hear feedback on the proposal. Those wanting to speak have to sign up ahead of time. The sign-up opens Monday. 

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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