The Jefferson County school district is proposing closing five schools in a cost-cutting move to meet a school board directive to better pay teachers and staff, Superintendent Dan McMinimee told reporters Thursday.
McMinimee’s comments came hours before a board meeting where the names of the schools will be publicly announced.
Given enrollment trends in Jeffco, it’s likely that the schools slated for closure will include some along the district’s eastern border with Denver. Those schools, which serve large populations of students living in poverty, have been the focus of recent district and community efforts to boost academic achievement.
“It will be a disruption to some families short-term,” McMinimee said. “But hopefully long-term, those families will see the benefits of having high-quality educators in classrooms their kids can access.”
The proposed closures are part of an effort to save between $20 million and $25 million, with the goal of spending that amount on attracting and retaining high-quality educators. Jeffco teachers on average are paid about $10,000 to $15,000 a year less than their peers in other metro area districts, McMinimee said, making it difficult to meet the district’s goal of ensuring every classroom has exceptional educators.
The school board decided to make spending on compensation a priority in November, after voters rejected a bond request for capital improvements and a tax increase that would have helped boost teacher salaries.
The 86,000-student district also anticipates a drop in enrollment, which will mean less money from the state. A change in property tax assessments also could cost Jeffco an estimated $10 million in state revenue, McMinimee noted.
The board will not be making any decisions Thursday. School principals were notified earlier in the day that their schools are being recommended for closure, McMinimee said. He called the closure recommendations “very difficult choices.”
The district identified the schools after considering nine or 10 criteria, among them enrollment trends and the condition of the buildings, he said. According to data provided by the district, enrollment is declining in the Edgewater, Jefferson and Alameda areas along Denver’s western boundary. Some Arvada schools also have many empty seats.
Fewer than 120 teachers and staff will be impacted by the closures, and McMinimee said he expects most will be offered other positions in the district. Between 300 and 500 positions come open per year, either because of one-year contracts elapsing or people moving on, he said.
As a result, the district will save money not on personnel but on not having to keep open and maintain under-utilized buildings, many of which are in need of repair. The district can also sell the property, taking away earnings from that.
All five Jeffco school board members won election in 2015 after a bitter recall campaign that saw the ousting of three conservative board members who hired McMinimee for the superintendent’s job. The recall had strong backing from the teachers union; the union also supported the candidates who swept to power and now hold all five seats.
This month, the school board voted to begin a search for a new superintendent while McMinimee still has six months remaining on his contract.
Chalkbeat’s Yesenia Robles contributed information to this report.