5 Denver schools removed from closure recommendation — for now

Dr. Alex Marrero, wearing a dark checkered suit jacket, white shirt, blue striped tie and a lapel pin.
Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero, shown in a file photo, has recommended the district close schools to address declining enrollment. (Hyoung Chang / The Denver Post)

Five Denver schools recommended for closure could get a temporary reprieve.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero announced late Thursday that he was changing his recommendation. Out of 10 schools initially recommended for closure, five are still a high priority to close because they get the largest budget subsidies, he said in a press release. 

The five schools Marrero is prioritizing for potential closure are:

Denver Discovery School

Schmitt Elementary

Fairview Elementary

International Academy of Denver at Harrington

Math and Science Leadership Academy

Another five schools are still under consideration, Marrero said, but the district will continue to support them financially while “we more closely engage with their respective communities.”

Those five schools are:

Colfax Elementary

Columbian Elementary

Palmer Elementary

Eagleton Elementary

Whittier ECE-8

The school board is set to vote on Marrero’s recommendation on Nov. 17.

“As a Denver resident, I understand the importance and value of neighborhood schools. I know many of our families have roots at schools that span generations,” Marrero said in a press release. “But I, as the superintendent of DPS, and our board of education have a fiduciary responsibility to all Denver residents.

“I take this responsibility seriously, and I want you to know I am committed to doing what is necessary to, as our strategic roadmap states, ensure Every Learner Thrives — today, tomorrow and for generations to come.”

The announcement comes on the same day that the school board in the neighboring Jeffco school district voted unanimously to close 16 elementary schools. Most metro area school districts are dealing with declining enrollment, but they’re handling the school closure process differently.

In Denver, three school board members said publicly or in interviews with Chalkbeat that they planned to vote against Marrero’s plan to close 10 schools. Three others said they were undecided, and one declined to answer.

Families at the 10 schools were also mobilizing against the recommendation, speaking out at meetings and press conferences, and circulating petitions to save their schools.

The Latino Education Coalition, a group of parents and community members, released a statement this week asking the district to impose a one-year moratorium on school closures because it said the process has been flawed. The coalition also questioned the district’s enrollment numbers at two of the 10 schools, arguing they were higher than the threshold set for closure.

Nine of the 10 schools originally recommended for closure primarily serve Black and Latino students and those from low-income families. All five of the schools that Marrero is prioritizing do. At each of the five schools, 8% or fewer of the students last year were white.

The five schools Marrero is prioritizing are the five smallest of the original 10. A letter to the community Marrero released Thursday lists the enrollments at each of the schools and how much money the district is spending to subsidize them this year.

Denver schools are funded per student, and schools with low enrollment struggle to afford staff. That sometimes leads to schools cutting art or music, combining two grade levels into one classroom, or losing bilingual programming. Denver subsidizes schools with fewer than 215 students. That’s also the cutoff Marrero used to make his closure recommendation.

The enrollments and subsidies were listed as:

Denver Discovery School: 93 students, $1,036,140 in subsidies

MSLA: 115 students, $511,230 in subsidies

Fairview: 128 students, $590,684 in subsidies

IAD at Harrington: 139 students, $568,852 in subsidies

Schmitt: 148 students, $683,024 in subsidies

According to the letter, the district could fund the yearly salaries of 34 teachers with the money it is spending to subsidize the five schools.

“As the superintendent of Denver Public Schools, it is my duty to ensure all students have access to robust academic offerings while the district remains fiscally responsible to Denver taxpayers,” Marrero wrote in the letter. “We’re not making this recommendation because we want to. We are doing so because we have to.”

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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