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Denver school board rejects proposal to close schools

The state’s largest school district proposed closing five schools amid a projected budget shortfall.

The Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board rejected a proposal Thursday to close elementary and middle schools that were being considered for consolidation due to an expected budget deficit over the next several years.

The initial proposed closure list included ten schools, then that was cut down to five. But Thursday night, DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero changed the recommendation again to only include two schools:

  • Denver Discovery School in Central Park
  • Math Science Leadership Academy in Athmar Park

The measures to close those schools both failed on 6 to 1 votes.

The board then voted unanimously to rescind the Small Schools Resolution. That’s the resolution the board passed in 2021 to direct the superintendent to address declining enrollment, paving the way for the school closure proposal.

“I want to thank everyone who participated during this difficult process,” Superintendent Dr. Marrero said in an emailed statement after the vote Thursday night. “The budget crisis that we are facing as a District is not expected to go away. Following the vote, I asked the Board for direction to move the District forward. I look forward to engaging with the community and with the Board to develop other ways that we can address the crisis.”

The list of five was down from an original list that included 10 schools. DPS said the new list “prioritizes five schools that have received the largest budget assistance.” The district said those five schools account for more than two-thirds of the nearly $5 million that DPS provides to subsidize the original list of 10 schools. 

Throughout the process, several board members were skeptical of the closure list and challenged district officials about the process, claiming it wasn’t “community-led.”

Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, who was clear even ahead of the meeting that he planned to vote no, apologized Thursday night to the families at all 10 originally listed schools.

“I’m sorry that we’ve put you through this. I’m going to say that one more time: I’m sorry we put you through this. And while I wish this situation had been avoided completely, your activism and, in Assata Shakur’s words, ‘to love and support one another,’ have humbled and inspired me.”

“Going forward, we may need to come back and address this again,” said Dr. Carrie Olson, District 3 board member, who also voted no. “But we can’t do it without community, without involving the very people who are going to be living with our decisions for the rest of their lives. For families who are planning on their students continuing in a school.”

“I’m glad the board has voted it down,” said Katie Strabala, a teacher at Eagleton Elementary School – one of the original 10 schools on the proposed closure list.

“They said a lot of really important things tonight about policy government, about moving forward. About looking at budgeting and neighborhoods again. And we look forward to holding them accountable for all of the things they said tonight.”

Strabala said she feels a combination of relief and nerves – about what happens next. 

“There were so many curveballs in the process this time. [I’m concerned] that if we don’t get a clear guideline, an outline of what’s next, then we just have more curveballs. The relief tonight is more from the board being clear saying – we need to revise our policy, than it is from the board [vote], itself.”

Source: Denver Post