DPS school board reveals potential timeline for deciding on school closures

Four months after rejecting a plan to close schools, the Board of Education overseeing Denver Public Schools on Thursday indicated it is ready to act on three schools that the district labeled as having “critically low enrollment.”

Superintendent Alex Marrero has not publicly made a final recommendation on what should happen to the three schools — Denver Discovery, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy and Fairview Elementary — but told the school board he could have one ready next month.

The schools have fewer than 120 students apiece, with either fewer than 25 incoming kindergarteners or fewer than 50 incoming sixth-graders, according to the superintendent’s presentation to the board.

“We are at the point with the three schools where we need to consider action immediately,” said board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson during the meeting, pointing to the fact that Denver Discovery, a middle school, is projected to have just 62 students next year

The three schools are among 15 total that the district considers having low enrollment. The superintendent isn’t expected to reveal his potential recommendations for the other 12 schools until September.

During Thursday’s meeting, Anderson questioned Marrero about when the 15 schools were notified that a list of schools would be published.

Marrero said he has had conversations with schools in “dire straits.”

Members asked Marrero to engage with the communities at the three schools before recommending any action and to make sure students have priority at any school they want to attend if theirs do end up closing.

The school board on Thursday also revealed its most detailed policy yet to address declining enrollment in Colorado’s largest district.

If it passes, the board’s policy will set a new executive limitation — what directors have called “guardrails” — around how Marrero and the district’s staff should approach school consolidation.

The three-page document directs the superintendent and his staff to take numerous steps to engage the community, including listing the information board members want the district to present to schools that may close. The policy also would have the district develop plans for what will happen with shuttered buildings and make sure students from a closed school have a safe route to their new one.

Most notably, the policy would create a potential timeline for closing and merging schools — one that is slightly longer than the one proposed by Marrero.

The superintendent’s presentation revealed a plan to address declining enrollment that is broader than the one he proposed in the fall, when he recommended closing 10 schools, and offers several actions — including phasing out grades and “co-locating” schools on the same property — that the board could take beyond simply shuttering buildings.

Overall enrollment in DPS has fallen for three consecutive years because of declining births, rising housing prices and gentrification. And DPS is facing a potential $9 million budget shortfall because the district receives less funding when there are fewer students enrolled in its schools.

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

Under the school board’s proposed policy, school leaders would meet with their staffs and communities this month to discuss the causes behind their reduced budgets.

The district would then publicly share separate lists of “schools eligible for consolidation and unification” and “schools proposed for consolidation and unification.”

In April, the district would meet with families and staffers at schools that might close and provide a timeline for any potential recommendations and inform them of the implications of falling enrollment.

In September, the superintendent will announce any schools he is recommending to close. (This matches Marrero’s timeline for a recommendation for 12 of the 15 schools he has identified with low enrollment.)

Members of the school board will let Marrero know of any concerns they have with his recommendation by October and hold public comments on the potential closures in November. Members would vote on any potential school closure or other consolidation recommendation in January, according to the proposed timeline.

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