Jeffco Board of Education hears updates on possible school closures

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With the Jeffco Board of Education vote on whether to consolidate elementary schools approaching on Nov. 10, the board heard another update on how closures would affect enrollment, students, staff and transportation.

Lisa Relou, chief of communications and strategy for Jefferson County Public Schools, highlighted specific questions she said had come up at multiple community meetings. One is parents feeling that a decision has already been made, a sentiment made at the first Emory Elementary community meeting.

“While the district’s recommendation to the board won’t be changing between now and Nov. 10, of course, every board member has a vote in this process,” said Relou. Other questions were why there was one vote rather than 16 — one for each school — which Relou said was to make the process as equitable as possible. She also said community members can make their feelings known to the board by writing to individual board members, and speaking at public comments, including on the day of the vote.

On enrollment, Relou stressed that students currently enrolled, by both boundary and choice, would have a guaranteed place at their new school. Doing nothing at all would auto-enroll students to the accepting school, and through the enrollment process, parents will have support from Jeffco faculty trained in the process.

“They will be a point of contact for our families. They will bridge the gap between our families and the internal enrollment system. Most importantly, they will be there to help families discuss their options,” elaborated Relou.

Relou also highlighted Jeffco’s transportation rules, which give bus transport if walking distance is more than one mile, and safety considerations such as highways, railroad crossings and roads with speed limits higher than 40 MPH that would also grant bus transport.

Specific distances and safety considerations for every school can be found in the presentation.

In terms of staff impact, Jeffco did a survey of about 300 staff members that would be affected and found 85% wanted to continue working in Jeffco, but their most important concern was not necessarily moving into the accepting school.

“In all the communities we’ve heard families say they want their teachers to be able to go with them to the receiving school, but…that’s not necessarily of the highest importance to our teachers,” said Relou. According to the survey, remaining at the elementary teaching level was of the highest concern to the most, with working near where they live the next important. For the majority of staff, but not all, teaching in the accepting school was not important.

A common question Relou pointed out is why the closing school staff have to re-apply for jobs while the receiving school staff does not.

“The schools that are closing, those roles are going away. In the receiving schools, those are positions that are staying, they aren’t changing. So those folks in them still have a right to those jobs,” she said.

Jeffco Board of Education President Stephanie Schooley asked whether the timing of hiring and knowing how many positions are open at receiving schools will line up. 

“You don’t really know how much staff you have, until you know how many kids you have, and what grades you have them in,” Jenifer Jones, the Jeffco Public Schools chief human resources officer, responded. She continued that principals will need to develop a budget and how many teachers they do or don’t need. The rough timeline, she explained, is budgeting in Jan. and Feb., and job postings, hiring, selections and matching to schools in February as well.

Also briefly spoken on was a hiring freeze from outside hires possibly through March or April, according to Jones. Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Tracy Dorland added that the Board was also entertaining the idea of early notification bonuses for those deciding to leave Jeffco, allowing more time to know if there’s space for impacted staff.

Some closing schools still have a second community meeting ahead, but after those will be one-hour public hearings in front of the Board of Education on Oct. 24 through 27, and on Nov. 2 and 3. Sign-up to speak will open five days prior to the date of the hearing, and speakers will be heard in order of sign-up. Relou elaborated that the first seven spots will be reserved for current staff and family affected by the possible closures, and they estimate enough time for 15 speakers with three minutes to speak each.

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