DPS considers school consolidation amid declining enrollment

Faced with declining enrollment, the state’s largest school district is considering consolidating some schools.

The dilemma facing Denver public schools is one that many districts face.

At this point, the DPS is only considering a possible consolidation of elementary and middle schools, including charter schools. The list of recommendations should come out in the next week or two.

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“While painful, and we understand that, it’s best for students,” said Scott Pribble, director of external communications at DPS.

As the metro area grows, Denver’s classrooms are shrinking, largely due to rising housing costs and falling birth rates, a DPS report found earlier this year. Over the next four years, the district expects another drop of 3,000 students, which will cost $36 million per year in per-student funding.

“If we were to absorb this financial hit, we might be able to keep all of our schools open, but we wouldn’t be able to provide all the necessary services at every school,” Pribble said.

These services include building mental health support, social work and special education services,” Pribble said. This is why consolidation is on the table and a group is currently working on recommendations for the board.

The criterion for a school to be recommended for consolidation include low enrollment and financial insolvency. Equity will also be an important factor.

Schools considered for consolidation will learn in the coming days. The district will then hold community meetings at schools before the board votes on the closures at its November meeting.

“We know this is going to cause some people heartache,” Pribble said. “But trust that we’re only doing this because we know it’s best for students, so they can get the best education and support they need to succeed.”

Parent and community leader Vernon Jones Junior remembers the pain caused by past consolidations and said he felt this process was rushed.

“In a two-week window, are you going to cram into thoughtful dialogue?” asked Jones. “I think we need to stop this as a district. We need to start saying dialogue is important, and if dialogue is important, we need to prioritize it, not at the end when we’re rushing to make a decision, but from the start.”

Without prioritizing this dialogue, Jones worries that students and parents will end up paying.

“Let’s be transparent about our current situation,” Jones said. “Let’s be transparent about where we need to go, why we need to go there, and make the best decisions with school communities rather than school communities.”

Once the recommendations are issued and the board votes, the schools chosen for consolidation will close before the next school year. Students can be automatically enrolled in the school with which their school is merged, or they can make an enrollment choice for another school.

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