Nov. 10, 2022
Declining Enrollment Update
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Dear Team DPS, 

One of the most challenging decisions a Superintendent can make is to recommend the consolidation of schools. Right now the impact of declining enrollment is forcing Superintendents across the country to confront this difficult decision. As a Denver resident, I understand the importance and value of neighborhood schools. I know many of our families have roots at schools that span generations. It is unfortunate that these family legacies won’t continue in quite the same way we imagined they would. I also understand these decisions are emotional to many, and there is an immense desire to keep all schools open. While I am deeply thankful to all of you who are being vocal about what you believe and for advocating for your kids and your communities, the educator in me firmly believes in the benefits of unification.

Our schools are so much more than places to house children during the daytime. They are places where we prepare our students for life after they graduate and ensure they are prepared for the 21st century workforce. To that end, all of our scholars deserve a robust and well-rounded educational experience. Staff at our under-enrolled schools are wearing many hats as they work to provide students with the academic offerings and whole child supports they need. The unfortunate reality is that students at fully-enrolled schools have more access to art, music, physical education, foreign language, STEM classes and mental health support like a full-time school psychologist rather than part-time. Students at under-enrolled schools do not have this same access. This is unacceptable.

Please know that my words are in no way a criticism of the students and educators who are doing so much within the financial constraints of under-enrolled schools. We deeply appreciate their tenacity, innovation and creativity in our classrooms. Still, I can’t help but consider what these same tenacious, innovative and creative students and educators will be able to do without these constraints.

For years, DPS has engaged in work to proactively address the complicated and ever-growing problem of declining enrollment, including:

  • Expanding preschool as a way to help fill seats in our elementary schools; 
  • Developing enterprising ways for our educators to cover positions at schools that have reduced student populations;
  • Partnering with the City of Denver and community organizations to open Community Hubs so that neighbors have access to support the social, emotional and academic needs of youth and their families.

Unfortunately, these efforts are not enough to solve for the impact of declining enrollment. We must do more. We care so much about our students. It is time to make tough decisions for the benefit of all of our students and to ensure there are no shortfalls in educational opportunities due to financial constraints.

For context, our state system for financing schools is based on per-pupil revenue. This means school enrollment matters and directly impacts funding at the individual school level. As the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, it is my duty to ensure all students have access to robust academic offerings while the district remains fiscally responsible to Denver taxpayers. We’re not making this recommendation because we want to. We are doing so because we have to.

In October, the district recommended 10 schools for unification based on the guidance developed by the Declining Enrollment Advisory Committee. These 10 schools each had enrollment under 215 students in the Fall of 2022. Due to their small size, we have had to provide additional resources so these schools can function as if they had an enrollment above 215 students. As explained during the Nov. 3 Board of Education meeting, DPS allocates $7.5 million dollars annually to subsidize small schools. Five million of those dollars support the 10 small schools included in the recommendation. This means we take $5 million each year from other DPS schools, students and programs to subsidize these small schools. Costs at these 10 schools are 45.9% higher than in the district as a whole. For context, instead of subsidizing these small schools, we could fund the yearly salaries and benefits for more than 50 full-time employees with this money.  

Here is how the almost $5 million is divided across the ten schools recommended for unification:
Throughout this two-year process, the district remained committed to engaging with impacted school communities -- not only to gather feedback, but also to share information on how the unification efforts will benefit all students. As such, I will be modifying the unification recommendation, prioritizing five schools that have received the largest budget assistance. 

The five schools to be considered for unification are Denver Discovery School, Schmitt Elementary, Fairview Elementary, International Academy of Denver at Harrington and Math and Science Leadership Academy. The other five schools are still under consideration and will continue to be supported as we more closely engage with those respective communities. As an example, Fairview Elementary would continue to be an educational asset in the community. Although Fairview would no longer serve as a school, it would still remain a community fixture as an Early Childhood Center in support of the Sun Valley redevelopment.

We acknowledge these decisions involve people, not just numbers and dollars. For that reason, and, because we care so much about these communities, we are working to get ahead of this issue and ensure we are making the best decisions for the larger DPS community. If the district does not address declining enrollment now, we will continue to dig ourselves into a larger hole that may require more drastic measures in the future. 

I, as the Superintendent of DPS, and our Board of Education have a fiduciary responsibility to all Denver residents. I take this responsibility seriously, and I want you to know I am committed to doing what is necessary to, as our Strategic Roadmap states, ensure Every Learner Thrives -- today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

In collaboration,
 
Dr. Alex Marrero
Superintendent
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