Aurora now has drafts for long-term plans that would affect school closure, and charter school relations

After months of back and forth, two groups of Aurora community and district leaders have created four possible outlines for how the district should build campuses and prioritize resources to accommodate its shifting population.

But one thing is likely with any choice, Aurora Public Schools is going to have to close, consolidate, or repurpose schools soon.

Even if the board ignores all four plans, the district still would have to determine how to choose which schools it would close.

If the board adopts one of the plans, or scenarios as the district calls them, then the plan’s principles would guide school closures later on.

For instance, one plan would set the district’s top priority as expanding college and career programs, another would prioritize fostering neighborhoods and communities, while another would leverage Aurora’s diversity to create international-minded communities.

The task force groups selected each of those priorities after community meetings and surveys made some starting points clear, including that Aurora wants more choice, but not necessarily through charter schools.

A consultant hired by the district to lead this work presented the four possible guiding plans, and details about how the groups arrived at them, to the board Tuesday night, with a promise for a more detailed report of more than 200 pages next month.

Board members said it was a lot of information to take in.

“I sort of feel like a deer in the headlights,” said board member Debbie Gerkin. “I’m very excited for what lies ahead and terrified about what lies ahead.”

Aurora is quickly losing enrollment in the northwest where gentrification has been pushing out many families. Several school buildings are now below capacity, and although the district’s long-term projections show enrollment rising again in a few years, it won’t be in the same areas.

The district is working with city estimates that 50,000 new homes could be built in the next 30 years, mostly on Aurora’s vast undeveloped land bordering the edge of the plains.

Each scenario suggests what district and school structures would work best.

In the scenario for expanding college and career programs, for instance, the work groups decided that the district should take control of the school choices available by offering more regional-based programs. Other, less costly programs could then also be introduced at every neighborhood school.

Two scenarios suggest that the district should adopt what is known as a portfolio model, where the district would engage charter schools and ask them to fill a specific need and to accept a neighborhood attendance area.

Those discussions heavily focused on equity. Community leaders and staff members participating in the groups wanted any new programs to be more accessible to all students, but realized that in some cases, it would be cost-prohibitive for the district to be the only provider of every program in every neighborhood or at every school.

Board President Marques Ivey asked if the board could mix and match or create their own plan too. The answer is yes.

Board members also expressed some hesitation to commit to a long-term plan narrowly focused on one principle, and asked about what flexibility they would have.

They also worried about cost, which planners did not analyze.

District leaders did give ideas about what issues might arise in trying to roll out each plan, and the consultant’s simple analysis shows every plan would require additional funding.

Board member Kayla Armstrong-Romero, concerned about missing cost estimates, said the discussion about costs “sounds very anecdotal for such a large decision.”

The consultant presenting the plans said each one contains too many variables to accurately estimate a cost.

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn left the door open for the board to consider how they want to proceed before making a decision, but suggested several ideas on soliciting public feedback on the plans.

Munn explained that the timeline for selecting a plan depends on the impact the board would like to have.

“It creates a framework that we then start using to build our budgets,” Munn said.

If the district finds an extra dollar to spend, he said, the framework would guide the district on whether to spend it on creating a clinic at a school, or on adding International Baccalaureate programming, for example, he said.

And in the long run, it’s likely the district would shape a new tax request to build whatever new schools it needs using the guidelines of the plan.

In the meantime, if the board doesn’t make a choice, district staff will continue presenting recommendations for budgets and school improvement efforts as usual, “unless we have direction to do something in a different way,” Munn said.

Here are the scenarios:

No change.

  • Status quo. Mix of programs. District primarily focused on neighborhood schools with small elementary schools and larger high schools.

Enhancing college and career preparation.

  • Would emphasize partnerships to provide more real-world opportunities for career exploration, internships, etc.
  • District controls school choices with a focus on district-run programs located regionally, and where financially feasible in every school. Smaller classes, including possible school-within-a-school models.

Fostering neighborhoods and communities.

  • Would place a focus on wraparound services with an emphasis on addressing mental health. Schools would be open for after school use and have space available for community groups to provide services to students and families.
  • The district would foster communities around schools, but would also use charter schools with attendance boundaries as neighborhood schools. Building size and grade level configuration would be based on local need.

Meeting the needs of the “whole child” meaning not just their academic needs.

  • Expands current wraparound services through greater access, coordination, and partnerships with community organizations. Schools would be open after hours and have space available for community groups to provide services.
  • District controls school choices with a focus on district-run programs located regionally, with a focus on still maintaining neighborhood schools. Building size and grade level configuration would be based on local need.

Leveraging strengths and building support for an international community.

  • Enhances existing language acquisition programs and offers multi-language instruction for all students.
  • District focus on neighborhood schools, but strategically engaging charter schools to help fill needs. Building size and grade level configuration would be based on local need.

Read the full presentation below (details of the final scenarios begin on page 53):