Denver’s school board voted Thursday to close three schools at the end of the academic year because of severely low enrollment, including two that members had decided against shuttering nearly four months ago.
The decision to close the schools — Denver Discovery, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, and Fairview Elementary — comes as overall enrollment in Denver Public Schools has fallen for three consecutive years. The problem is starting to affect the district’s budget, with DPS facing a potential $9 million budget shortfall at the end of the year.
“Closing a school can be a painful and emotional process but it’s important to remember the decision is made with the best interest of students,” said board member Michelle Quattlebaum, adding, “This is hard for me. I do not like closing schools.”
Superintendent Alex Marrero has identified 12 additional schools that also have low enrollment, but he doesn’t plan to make a final recommendation on their fate until September.
The three schools that will close were among the 10 schools Marrero recommended shutting in the fall. The earlier plan was rejected by the Board of Education in November even after it was revised to only include two schools: Denver Discovery and Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy.
In the fall, all but one school board member — Scott Baldermann — voted against closing both schools.
All three schools that will close have fewer than 120 students. Denver Discovery, a middle school, is the smallest with only 62 students projected to enroll if it remained open next year.
The board’s vote means that students at Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy will merge with those at Valverde Elementary School and those attending Fairview will go to Cheltenham Elementary School during the 2023-24 academic year.
Families with children at Denver Discovery will get to choose what school their kids attend in the fall, instead of students merging with another school.
Employees at the three schools have guaranteed jobs in the district despite the closures, according to Marrero’s presentation to the board.
DPS is just the latest district to close schools because of falling enrollment. School districts across the U.S. are finding there are fewer students in their classrooms. Last year, Jeffco Public Schools’ board voted to close 16 elementary schools.
At DPS, overall enrollment began falling three years ago, but fewer elementary-aged students have been attending Denver schools since 2014. The district has attributed the decline to fewer babies being born, gentrification and rising housing costs.
Falling enrollment hits school budgets because they receive less funding when there are fewer students. Marrero has previously said small schools have larger class sizes and fewer resources, such as electives, for students.
District officials also have said they are subsidizing schools with low enrollment to keep them operational. DPS is providing the three schools that will close with supplemental funding that ranges from $680,139 to $1.05 million.
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