By Talia Traskos-Hart
Between 2019 and 2021, the Denver Public Schools system lost more than 3,500 students, or 3% of its total student body. Elyria and Swansea were among one of the most affected neighborhoods, with a decrease of over 20% in the school-age population between 2010 and 2020. Sharply declining enrollment within DPS has prompted discussions on potential school consolidations and closures.
This spring, the district’s Declining Enrollment Advisory Committee, a group headed by Superintendent Alex Marrero and made up of 34 parents, family members, school district staff members, teachers and community members, developed a set of criteria to be used in identifying schools that may be eligible for consolidation or closure. Now, the criteria will be passed on to higher- level DPS officials to be used in determining which schools may be affected.
“The role of the committee was simply to come up with the criteria. It’s up to the superintendent and the board to decide if they will apply (it) in the next few years or if they won’t,” explained Moira Coogan, the Principal at DCIS Montbello and a member of the advisory committee.
The committee set out three criteria to be used in locating schools that may be closed or consolidated. The initial two criteria deal with enrollment numbers. Schools with critically low enrollment—under 215 students—or with enrollment below 275 students with an 8% to 10% decline forecast over the next two years may see changes. In addition, charter schools that have been financially insolvent for over two years may be eligible for consolidation or closure.
The superintendent and school board will identify these schools using data from the student count on Oct. 1 of this year Schools will not be consolidated or closed until the 2023-2024 school year at the earliest, DPS’ Small Schools Resolution notes.
The resolution, which was established alongside the formation of the advisory committee, noted that families impacted by closures and consolidations will be assisted through the transition to new schools. Xochitl Gaytan, president of the DPS Board of Education, noted that she and other board members hope to avoid school closures where possible.
“There are certainly concerns in DPS around declining enrollment, which is directly impacted due to gentrification, segregation, and the significant increase of alternative school models such as charter schools,” Gaytan said. “But our board is hoping to keep our schools open, especially our neighborhood public schools.”
Despite the hope to keep as many schools open as possible, DPS leaders have raised concerns in recent years regarding the lack of funding with sharply declining enrollment numbers. Smaller schools receive lower funding, making it challenging to fund extracurricular opportunities, gifted and talented programs, and resources such as counseling.
Coogan noted that equity concerns were a major focus in discussions surrounding the criteria. The committee did not, for example, set school achievement as a criterion, which Coogan noted was due to a concern that achievement measures could be “potentially inequitable.”
“The biggest concern for our committee was that we have the least amount of impact on the most impacted schools,” Coogan said. “Schools that are serving traditionally underserved populations or serving a high level of students experiencing poverty … we didn’t want those schools to be more impacted by this.”
While Coogan recognized that worries have been high in neighborhoods with declining enrollment, she emphasized that no decisions have yet been made regarding consolidations or closures.
“I know a lot of community members are concerned right now, wondering, ‘Is my school on the list or is something going to happen,’” she said. “For those community members, just know that there is no list right now.”
Charmaine Lindsay, the recently appointed District 5 representative, which covers North Denver, declined to be interviewed for this story, citing a family vacation.