Facing the same enrollment decline, DPS and JeffCo take opposite approach regarding school closures

Denver Public Schools
Posted at 6:05 PM, Nov 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-18 20:05:45-05

DENVER — After weeks of public debate over school closures, Denver Public Schools leaders are headed back to the drawing board as they address declining enrollment and budget shortfalls.

The DPS Board of Education voted 6-1 Thursday against proposed closures. But, as even board members themselves stipulated prior to their votes, the topic of closures is far from over.

Initially, the district recommended closing 10 schools with low enrollment. The list was later reduced to five, and then reduced again to just two schools at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting. Members of the board were caught off-guard by the change, and ultimately rejected the proposal.

“I feel like we’re playing politics with kids and their education, and I’ve had enough of it,” Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson said of the changed proposal from the district.

Even though the board voted against closures for the time being, all members were essentially in agreement that difficult decisions will still have to be made sooner rather than later.

The data tells us they’re right in their prognosis. Our friends at Chalkbeat recently did a deep dive into enrollment data throughout Colorado, revealing declining numbers at many school districts.

Data revealed a few key reasons for this predicament, chief among them being people moving and having fewer babies. In Denver County, for example, the birthrate has fallen from more than 17 births per 1,000 people in the year 2000 to fewer than 12 births per 1,000 people in the year 2021. On top of that, rising home costs — particularly in the Denver metro — have pushed families out to suburbs and rural areas.

While Denver Public Schools has decided to tackle this topic another day — in an undetermined manner and timeline — JeffCo Public Schools has taken the opposite approach. Its Board of Education unanimously voted to to close 16 schools.

“For us it was so clear, by every metric, that we needed to do something,” JeffCo Board of Education member Mary Parker said.

Parker said that each board member, herself included, viewed the decision to close schools as tragic and difficult but also unavoidable for the long-term success of students.

In Colorado, education funds are allotted per student, meaning declining enrollment equates to less money for schools. Smaller schools, therefore, often have fewer resources.

“I’m looking at equity mainly through resources,” Parker said. “The educational services, the academic success of every child, making sure they have the same opportunity all across the district.”