Denver public schools may close 10 schools due to low enrollment; critics blame poor planning

Denver Public Schools’ superintendent is recommending the closure of 10 elementary and middle schools, citing low enrollment from declining birth rates and a changing housing market.

Despite Superintendent Alex Marrero’s promise students will be welcomed into nearby schools, parents are expressing frustration and worry about the effects of school consolidation on their children.

Manuel Aragon, the father of a student whose elementary school was recommended for closure, told Colorado Public Radio’s Denverite that after the Denver teacher’s strike in 2019 and the pandemic, it feels like one obstacle after another.

 “It is this dilemma as parents, as our daughter’s rebuilding and watching her own friend group and social structures rebuild, that it’s just going to get devastated again,” Aragon said.

Others voiced concerns about transportation, particularly for homeless youth, and the effects of school consolidation on Spanish-speaking students.

While no one could have foreseen the pandemic, critics argue that poor planning on the part of DPS also is to blame.

Chalkbeat Colorado reports that during the past 20 years, DPS added schools faster than it had students to fill them. While it had 132 schools and 72,000 students in the 2001-2002 academic year, it now has 204 schools and 89,000 students, a 55% increase in schools compared to a mere 12% increase in enrollment.

“This very moment was bound to happen,” Mandy Nunes Hennessey, the mother of a DPS student, told Denverite. “I feel like there is a responsibility on the part of the district to say we messed up and to take some accountability for that.”

Public school enrollment also is declining because of the increasing popularity of private and home schools. The number of homeschooling households doubled in Colorado during the pandemic. Similarly, Christian private schools experienced “a wave of enthusiasm” as families sought alternatives to traditional public education.

Public school operating costs also are on the rise, making it difficult to justify the cost of public schools with smaller enrollments, especially when private schools often operate with half the funding of public schools.

In 2014, DPS had a budget of $1.14 billion, which grew 34% to $1.48 billion in 2021 – far outstripping inflation.

The Board of Education will hear public comments Nov. 14 and vote Nov. 17 to decide if the 10 schools listed by Marrero will be closed and consolidated for the 2023-24 academic year.