Jeffco Public Schools proposes closing 16 elementary schools in consolidation move

Board will vote on proposal at Nov. 10 meeting after public meetings, public comment
jeffco public schools sign.jpg
Posted at 5:13 PM, Aug 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-26 01:38:26-04

DENVER — Jeffco Public Schools is proposing closing 16 elementary schools and consolidating them with other nearby schools because of declining enrollment in the district, officials told the district’s school board Thursday evening.

The board will vote on the district’s recommendations on Nov. 10 after a series of meetings over the next two months explaining the consolidation plan to families whose children attend the schools and staff who work at them, which will be followed by a public comment period in late October.

"We have schools that are running classrooms with two grade levels of students in them, which causes staff members to wear multiple hats in the building on any given day," the district's superintendent Tracy Dorland said. "An instructional coach that should be working with teachers to plan lessons and help in classrooms might be having to take a group of students for math instruction on a daily basis."

The move would affect around 2,500 students and 422 full-time staff, according to the district. Families would be able to choose to move to the school that the district picks for consolidation or choose a different school.

Staff at the new school will stay there, and staff working at schools that are closing will be able to interview for jobs at the new school and other schools within Jeffco Public Schools. The district says it will provide extra training and development opportunities this year to help teachers and other staff bolster their resumes at schools that have been picked to be closed.

"We will be offering staff in these impacted schools the opportunity to receive an endorsement in one of these hard-to-staff areas like special education, therefore allowing them to move into some of the positions that were already having a hard time staffing," Dorland said.

The district said that “in most cases,” it should be able to move all students from one school to another, which would allow them to remain with their peers.

The schools that would be closed if the district’s proposal is accepted, and the schools they would consolidate with, are as follows:

  • Alameda Emory → Lasley (Emory Center Program → Rose Stein)
  • Arvada: Peck → Secrest
  • Arvada: Thomson → Swanson (Thomson Center Program → Hackberry Hill if needed)
  • Arvada West: Campbell → Fremont, Campbell → Vanderhoof (Campbell Center Program → Vanderhoof)
  • Bear Creek: Peiffer → Kendallvue
  • Dakota Ridge: Colorow → Powderhorn
  • Green Mountain: Green Mountain ES → Foothills (Green Mountain Center Program → Belmar)
  • Evergreen: 2024-25 Bergen Meadow K-2 → Bergen Valley will become PK-5
  • Jefferson: Molholm → Lumberg
  • Lakewood: Glennon Heights → Belmar (Glennon Center Program → Hutchinson)
  • Pomona: Parr → Little
  • Standley Lake: Sheridan Green → Ryan
  • Standley Lake: Witt → Lukas
  • Wheat Ridge: Vivian → Stober (Vivian Center Program → Maple Grove)
  • Wheat Ridge: Wilmore Davis → Stevens
  • Wheat Ridge: Kullerstrand → Prospect Valley

The criteria the district used to makes its decisions involved schools that, on Aug. 15, had fewer than 220 K-2, K-5, or K-6 students. Another consideration was if a school was utilizing less than 45% of its capacity and there was a school less than 3.5 miles away that had the capacity to take the students from the school picked to be closed.

All of the schools on the list for proposed closures met at least one of those criteria, according to the district.

The district says it has the capacity to serve 96,000 students but only had around 69,000 as of last October. It says the consolidation, if it occurs as recommended, would move the capacity to 89,000 students.

The district says the number of school-aged children in Jefferson County peaked in 2001, and more than a third of schools in the district were built during the baby boom between 1946 and 1964. The proposed consolidation would move the elementary schools outside of the mountain schools to an average of 1.5 miles away compared to the current 1.3 miles.

"Our community has changed, the demographics has changed, the number of students have changed, and the housing inventory has changed," said Lisa Relou, chief of strategy and communications for the district. "There's fewer inventory of homes for young families, and affordable homes for young families. The cost of living, I think, in Jefferson County has definitely impacted our situation with declining enrollment."

The district started the Regional Opportunities for Thriving Schools initiative last spring after closing another school because of declining enrollment, and the proposal made Thursday was the result of months of discussions and planning.

Relou said district families will be able to attend 60-minute meetings specific to each school between Sept. 6 and Oct. 21 before a public comment period Oct. 24-27.

“We come into this process believing that nobody wants their schools to close. But unfortunately, we’re just in a position with our moment and our resources where we can no longer just keep every school open,” Relou told Denver7. “This is a giant puzzle, right? Because we have to look at where enrollment is at school — both in the school that has the low enrollment and where are places that can accept the students in the context of their enrollment.”

Relou said the district wanted to unveil the proposal Thursday to be as clear as possible with families about why their schools were chosen for consolidation.

“Ultimately, our goal is sustainable elementary schools. And sometimes, when we’re able to combine two school communities, we’re able to really strengthen and sustain one school for that community – hopefully for the long-term,” she said.

Relou added that she felt the district took the board’s request for a comprehensive look at consolidation seriously and did its part to ensure schools would thrive and that principals would have the needed support at lower population schools.

She said the district’s recommendation will not change between Thursday and the Nov. 10 board vote.

“There’s absolutely no joy at all in bringing forward this recommendation. We have to look at what’s best for students, and that’s what’s best for students in those schools that we’re talking about consolidating and district-wide, because all of the funding that we are spending to supplement and keep these small schools open to literally allow them to survive,” Relou said. “It pulls from every other school in the district and every other experience in the district, and we can’t just allow that to continue to happen.”

The district said it had spent only 2% of 2018 bond project money on the schools recommended for consolidation and that $12.2 million in projects were deferred because of low enrollment at those schools.

The district estimates it will save between $8.5 million and $12 million by consolidating the elementary schools and incur one-time costs of $1.9 million to $3.5 million.

Teachers who will be affected by the consolidation are concerned about the ramifications, according to Dale Munholland, a Pomona High School teacher and the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) vice president.

“We’re hoping that those who are affected by this, that the district will have a plan and the district will work with us and work with the community in finding somewhere for those people to go,” Munholland said.

The district said it would follow the JCEA and Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association (JESPA) master agreements to navigate the 2023-24 school year. Non-probationary JCEA teachers will have one year of employment following displacement and will be prioritized for interviews during the hiring process.

“The district will offer opportunities for certified staff to gain endorsements in hard to staff areas during the 2022-23 school year at no cost to them, to make them more competitive for positions in the 2023-24 school year,” the district’s presentation said.

The next consolidation target will be K-8 schools. The district is expected to start the consolidation review process for those schools in January, with recommendations coming in fall 2023.

Denver7's Nicole Brady and Bayan Wang contributed to this report.