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‘Uncertainty’ after Denver board rejects faculty closures


To some, the Denver faculty board’s choice to not shut any faculties subsequent yr is a victory for the scholars, dad and mom, and academics who pleaded to avoid wasting their faculties and a rebuke of a course of they mentioned was top-down and rushed.

“The ‘no’ vote demonstrated the desire of the group,” mentioned Milo Marquez, a Denver Public Colleges guardian and co-chair of the Latino Schooling Coalition.

To others, the board’s motion — or slightly, inaction — is unhealthy for college kids who will now stay in under-enrolled faculties and quantities to kicking the can down the highway.

“By not taking any motion, I believe they’ve postpone the inevitable,” mentioned Rosemary Rodriguez, a former board member and co-chair of EDUCATE Denver. 

Both approach, the choice marks the following stage of the journey slightly than the tip of a highway that has been filled with begins and stops and twists and turns. 

First, a previous board acknowledged that declining enrollment is an issue and tasked the superintendent with consolidating small faculties. The district launched a listing of 19 faculties, however group teams reacted with concern and Superintendent Alex Marrero scrapped it.

Switching ways, he shaped a group committee to provide you with standards for which faculties to shut. He utilized that standards — faculties with 215 college students or fewer — final month and launched a brand new record of 10 faculties to shut. After pushback, he narrowed his advice final week to 5. He narrowed it once more Thursday to 2.

However the faculty board mentioned no. In a 6-1 vote Thursday, they rejected Marrero’s whittled-down advice. In addition they revoked the prior board’s directive, sending Marrero again to the drafting board on addressing declining enrollment, which all of them agree is an issue.

The superintendent mentioned exhausting choices are coming

In an interview Friday, Marrero mentioned the ‘no’ vote doesn’t make the issue go away. Denver faculties are funded per pupil, and he mentioned some will nonetheless be too small to afford strong programming. The district should maintain subsidizing them, which can eat at its price range. On Thursday, Marrero mentioned the district is going through a $23.5 million deficit for subsequent yr.

“Will we go bankrupt subsequent yr? No,” Marrero mentioned in Friday’s interview. “However anyone who has their eye on the prize goes to say, ‘That didn’t make monetary sense.’ It doesn’t make academic sense, both.”

Marrero mentioned so far as he’s involved, there are nonetheless 10 faculties on a listing. And it’s doubtless that he’ll quickly come again to the board with a advice to shut the 2 smallest of these faculties — 115-student Math and Science Management Academy and 93-student Denver Discovery Faculty — as a result of they gained’t have the price range to function anymore.

“The truth is, at a number of factors within the close to future, we’re all going to should make unpopular choices,” Marrero mentioned. “Voting no is straightforward to do. It’s a highly regarded factor to do. 

“However typically we’ve to make choices which are unpopular, misunderstood, or taken out of context in sure instances, and that comes with the territory.”

Marrero rejected an accusation made by at the least one board member that he whittled down his suggestions with a view to get a majority of the board to agree, although he mentioned he assumed closing fewer faculties “can be a better factor to digest.”

“Beneath all chance, if it handed, I’d have mentioned, ‘We obtained two. Right here come the following three.’”

Board and group criticize the method

In voting no, a number of board members criticized the method the superintendent used to reach at his suggestions whereas on the similar time praising him as the proper particular person for the job. 

Neighborhood members additionally criticized the method, saying the district did a poor job explaining to households the monetary and academic causes for the proposed closures.

“It doesn’t seem as in the event that they perceive what the issue is and why they’re doing this within the first place,” mentioned Van Schoales, senior coverage director at Keystone Coverage Heart.

In distinction, neighboring Jeffco Public Colleges shared in depth data about every of its under-enrolled faculties over the summer time, then launched a advisable closure record in August. Board members voted unanimously final week to shut 16 elementary faculties, overriding the pleas of some dad and mom and academics. 

In Aurora, the place the district has engaged in a multiyear course of to shut faculties in areas with declining enrollment whereas planning for progress in different areas, the college board did vote down two advisable closures, solely to approve them a number of months later. Superintendent Rico Munn merely returned with the identical advice, saying nothing had modified.

The Denver board’s most important grievance was that the closure suggestions got here from Marrero and never from the group. Marrero disagreed; he mentioned group members from throughout Denver got here up with the closure standards. However board members mentioned dad and mom and academics from the ten under-enrolled faculties ought to have been those brainstorming options.

“As we speak we’ve proven by means of our values that we don’t shut faculties with out group main us by means of this course of,” Vice President Auon’tai Anderson mentioned after Thursday’s vote. 

Board pledges to offer extra route

A number of members mentioned the board shares a part of the blame. Scott Baldermann mentioned he and others ought to have given clearer route to Marrero on the best way to apply the college closure standards — and, extra broadly, on the best way to handle declining enrollment — by adopting what the board calls “government limitations,” that are insurance policies that inform Marrero what’s off limits.

In doing that, Baldermann mentioned, “we are able to decide the next: Do we have to consolidate faculties in any respect? Is the group content material with smaller enrollment and fewer sources? I don’t imagine the reply is sure. However we have to ask.”

Other than closing faculties, Baldermann floated different methods to handle under-enrolled faculties, together with adjusting faculty boundaries and now not funding faculties per pupil.

A woman with shoulder-length dark wavy hair and cat-eye glasses raises her hand in a cautionary way. Her face looks concerned.

Denver Board President Xóchitl Gaytán stops Vice President Auon’tai M. Anderson from persevering with along with his feedback throughout a tense second of debate Thursday.

RJ Sangosti / The Denver Publish

Board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán mentioned the district’s embrace of college selection, which permits college students to use to attend any faculty in Denver, has damage district-run faculties that lose college students to unbiased constitution faculties with greater advertising and marketing budgets.

“All of us, as a board, want to have a look at, by way of coverage, the best way to shield our households and our college students which are in these public elementary faculties,” she mentioned Thursday.

The ‘no’ vote creates uncertainty

Now that they’ve rejected Marrero’s advice, board members must take the lead on what occurs subsequent, group members mentioned.

“The board goes to should, pretty shortly, arrange a framework by which they’re going to ask the administration to behave,” Rodriguez mentioned. “Everyone is DPS with concern proper now.”

The following steps for the board, Gaytán mentioned in an interview Friday, are to go new government limitations on declining enrollment and determine whether or not to tug cash from the district’s price range reserves to fund the ten under-enrolled faculties for now.

“Proper now, we’ve obtained this BAND-AID and the wound is bleeding,” Gaytán mentioned. “We have to rip the BAND-AID off and get the surgeon to place in stitches to start out the therapeutic.”

No matter whether or not group members agree with the board’s ‘no’ vote or not, they mentioned it has created uncertainty — not only for the ten small faculties which have been threatened with closure, however for each faculty within the district that would in the future be in that place.

“You go from 10 faculties being unsure to now each faculty in DPS has to surprise how the superintendent and board goes to maneuver ahead on this and if it’s going to have an effect on them,” mentioned Clarence Burton, Jr., the CEO of Denver Households for Public Colleges. 

“That uncertainty is now unfold all through the district.”

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, protecting Denver Public Colleges. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.



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