Poudre School District considers consolidating schools amid low enrollment, budget cuts

Poudre School District
Posted at 9:29 PM, Apr 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 23:29:53-04

LAPORTE, Colo. — Poudre School District said lower enrollment and budget cuts have forced them to consider different scenarios that may lead to school closures.

"We have too many schools that have too small of enrollment to be able to maintain those robust academic and social/emotional supports," said Madeline Novey, spokesperson with Poudre School District.

A recent budget presentation revealed over four years, enrollment in the district has dropped by 1,230 kids, impacting the district's per-pupil funding. The district anticipates a 9.26% decline in enrollment by 2027-2028.

Novey said the district has paid around $6.6 million over the past few years to keep programs at under-enrolled schools.

"When enrollments dropped below what is really an efficient number — and here in Poudre School District, we look at 400 for elementary schools and about 700-750 for middle schools — what happens is, those resources don't go as far. So when you have fewer students, you are really stretching your resources incredibly thin," said Novey.

During that same budget presentation, district officials said there's about $12 million more in revenue compared to last year, even after allocating funds for utilities, charter schools and some critical improvements. When asked about that money, the district told Denver7 there are still unknown impacts to the budget that might eat into those funds.

"Where will state funding ultimately land? We have a pretty good sense, but they're still working through that. Then we also have negotiations every year around employee compensation and benefits," said Novey.

During these budget discussions, compensation for the school's superintendent, particularly a recent raise, has come under fire by parents.

"The Board of Education approves our superintendent's contract and approved increases of 6% one year and 12% the next. What our president has shared is the board, at the time of approval of the contract, was doing it to bring their salary in alignment with other superintendents throughout the state. It is still among the lowest in the state," said Novey.

The District tasked a 37-member volunteer committee to balance the enrollment issue with necessary budget cuts.

Many of the proposed scenarios include school consolidations, particularly involving Blevins Middle School, Beattie Elementary School, Olander Elementary School, Preston Middle School, Lopez Elementary School, Dunn Elementary, and Cache La Poudre (CLP) Elementary and Middle Schools.

"I feel the listening session should have been held first to get some of these human costs that they're looking at and then come up with the scenarios," said Lindsey Nightwalker, who has two kids in CLP. Her preschooler is set to be a kindergartner there next year.

Nightwalker was one of roughly 150 people who signed up to speak at Tuesday's school board listening session. Several parents spoke up in support of keeping their schools open.

"This feels like you're pitting parents against each other to team up and sacrifice the weakest school," one parent shared with the board.

Many parents expressed concerns about the transportation impact caused by the proposed consolidations. CLP is one of very few middle and elementary schools that serve that part of northern Colorado.

"Some of [the students] have lived further than where the bus travels. They have a 20-minute drive to [the bus stop] there, where they then take a bus an hour to get to school," said CLP parent Sarah Kintzley, who lives about 45 minutes from the school.

The proposed consolidation of CLP could add an extra 30 minutes round trip to students' already lengthy commute.

"I don't think that children riding a bus for three hours a day is justified for the amount of money that they're gonna save by sending our kids to a school in Fort Collins," said Kintzley.

"Laporte is its own city. Public transportation from Fort Collins does not come out here. We do have a rather high population of low-income students at the school. And to take the school out where they don't have public transportation access to get there, to get to their new school that they may be consolidated into, is really concerning," said Nightwalker.

The district told Denver7 it has received valid feedback during the public comment period and plans to revisit the plans.

"That is not to say that these are not things that we have not already been thinking about and trying to problem solve as a district," said Novey.

The district insists it will consider the public feedback for the next phase of the plan. Many families have asked the district to pause the plan or reconsider the closures.

"We do understand that the district might have to make some changes. I just don't feel that they've considered all the changes that are possible that don't require children having to switch schools," said Kintzley.

A revised set of scenarios for boundary adjustments and school consolidations will be released on May 7. A second questionnaire will come out shortly after to gather new public input. The feedback will be shared with the Board of Education on May 14, with a finalizing meeting set for May 28. The Board of Education is expected to make a final decision by June 11.

"I would just ask the district to slow down. Let's move this June deadline and kind of go back to the beginning and work together," said Nightwalker.

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