Superintendent Alex Marrero is recommending Denver Public Schools close three schools this year because of declining enrollment, according to a presentation he is scheduled to give to the Board of Education on Thursday.
In potentially closing schools, Marrero is seeking to address persisting declining enrollment and a possible $9 million budget deficit the state’s largest district is facing as fewer students enroll in its schools. He has identified 12 other schools that also have low enrollment but isn’t expected to make a final recommendation on their fate until September.
For now, Marrero is proposing three schools — Denver Discovery, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, and Fairview Elementary — close at the end of this academic year, with students moving to other schools, according to the presentation.
It’s the second time in about five months the schools have faced the possibility of closing; they were among the 10 schools Marrero recommended shutting down in late October. The earlier plan was rejected by the school board in November despite revisions to reduce the list to only two schools: Denver Discovery and Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy.
Last month, board members who previously voted against school closures hinted that they were ready to act on the three schools in Marrero’s new recommendation.
Under the superintendent’s new plan, students at Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy would move to Valverde Elementary School and those attending Fairview would have guaranteed spots at Cheltenham Elementary School. Students at those two schools would attend their new schools at the start of the 2023-24 academic year.
Employees at those two schools would also have guaranteed positions at the new schools, according to the proposal.
Families with children attending Denver Discovery would get to choose what school their students attend in the fall. The district heard from staff and families who said they did not want to merge into another school, but instead “wanted agency in selecting their ‘forever school,’” according to the presentation.
All three schools have fewer than 120 students. Denver Discover, a middle school, was expected to enroll only 62 students next year.
Overall enrollment in DPS has fallen for three consecutive years because of declining births, rising housing prices and gentrification. However, elementary enrollment has fallen since 2014. The district is facing a potential $9 million shortfall because schools receive less funding when there are fewer students.
District officials have said they are subsidizing schools with low enrollment to keep them operational. DPS is providing the three schools Marrero has proposed closing with supplemental funding that ranges from $680,139 to $1.05 million, depending on the school.
The rollout of the previous school closure proposal in the fall faced criticism from families, employees and the school board for its quick timeline and lack of community engagement.
In November, the district received pushback on its plans to merge Fairview with Cheltenham from families and the Denver Housing Authority.
A Nov. 1 memo by the housing authority showed it is expecting redevelopment in the Sun Valley neighborhood to bring enough children to keep Fairview open. It also found “significant safety issues” on the highways children would have to cross to get to Cheltenham.
Marrero’s presentation says that in recent weeks the district has held meetings with staff and families about the future of the three schools that might close and that their feedback is being used by the superintendent to make the new recommendation.
Now, as part of the closure plan, Marrero will recommend DPS expand the school boundary for Cheltenham to include Fairview’s. If approved, this would guarantee transportation for students in Fairview’s boundary to Cheltenham because they would be considered outside of the latter’s “walk zone,” according to the presentation.