Denver school closures back on the table with new recommendations from superintendent

A bald man wearing a dark jacket sits in a chair at a desk in front of a computer.
Superintendent Alex Marrero, seen here at a school board meeting on Nov. 17, 2022, is expected to present new school closure recommendations Thursday night. (RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post)

Three months after the Denver school board rejected a previous recommendation to close under-enrolled schools, Superintendent Alex Marrero is trying again. He’s expected to present a new recommendation Thursday night to address declining enrollment at 15 small schools.

The recommendation could result in the closure of three schools with very low enrollment — Denver Discovery School, Math and Science Leadership Academy, and Fairview Elementary — as soon as the end of this school year if the school board agrees next month, according to a slide presentation attached to Thursday’s agenda. 

Options for the other schools on the list include phasing out by not enrolling new students in the lowest grades or revising school boundaries. Marrero’s recommendation also leaves room for options generated by the community, which board members said was missing last time. Most of the 15 schools on the new list were part of Marrero’s previous closure recommendation.

Denver Public Schools isn’t the only metro area district dealing with declining enrollment due to lower birth rates and higher housing costs. Neighboring Jeffco Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools each voted last year to close schools with low enrollment. The Douglas County School District is starting to plan for school closures in 2026.

The three Denver schools with what Marrero calls “critically low enrollment” have the fewest options. Denver Discovery School, a middle school, is projected to have just 62 students next year; Math and Science Leadership Academy, an elementary school, is projected to have 104 students excluding preschoolers; and Fairview Elementary is projected to have 118 students. 

The Denver Housing Authority pushed back on a previous recommendation to close Fairview, arguing that redevelopment would bring more school-age children to the neighborhood.

For those three schools, Marrero is recommending either closing them at the end of the school year, phasing out grades over several years starting with kindergarten or sixth grade next year, or other options generated by the community. 

A proposed timeline calls for Marrero to meet with the school communities to discuss options in March and present a recommendation for a school board vote later in the month. The district would then help families and staff with transitions before next school year.

Twelve other schools with what Marrero calls “concerning enrollment” have more options, including staying open while the district subsidizes their budget, moving so they share a building with another school, or revising their boundaries or feeder patterns. 

The 12 schools, their projected 2023-24 enrollment excluding preschoolers, and the district subsidy they’d need next year, according to a district presentation, are:

  • International Academy of Denver at Harrington, 131 students, $519,708 in subsidies.
  • Columbian Elementary, 141 students, $537,838 in subsidies.
  • Schmitt Elementary, 142 students, $531,651 in subsidies.
  • Hallett Academy, 171 students, $1,049,172 in subsidies.
  • Palmer Elementary, 175 students, $352,626 in subsidies.
  • Kaiser Elementary, 175 students, $360,053 in subsidies.
  • Whittier K-8 School, 186 students, $300,932 in subsidies.
  • Colfax Elementary, 192 students, $247,447 in subsidies.
  • Eagleton Elementary, 194 students, $211,134 in subsidies.
  • Ashley Elementary, 198 students, $105,179 in subsidies.
  • Beach Court Elementary, 201 students, need $86,618 in subsidies.
  • Cole Arts and Sciences Academy, 209 students, $37,122 in subsidies.

A proposed timeline for the 12 schools includes more lead time before a decision. It calls for Marrero and an outside facilitator to discuss options with the school communities from March to August. Marrero would present a recommendation to the school board in September. Any closures or other changes wouldn’t happen until fall 2024. 

In rejecting a whittled down set of school closure recommendations in November on a 6-1 vote, a majority of school board members said the process was rushed and didn’t include enough time for families and teachers from the affected schools to give feedback.

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

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