16 Jefferson County elementary schools slated for closure

Board of Education cites under enrollment; public meetings scheduled for September, October

Andrew Fraieli
afraieli@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 8/25/22

The Jefferson County Board of Education received a recommendation from district staff on Aug. 25 to close 16 elementary schools — including K-2, K-5 and K-6 schools. 

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16 Jefferson County elementary schools slated for closure

Board of Education cites under enrollment; public meetings scheduled for September, October

Posted

The Jefferson County Board of Education received a recommendation from district staff on Aug. 25 to close 16 elementary schools — including K-2, K-5 and K-6 schools. 

The district’s presentation by David Weiss, chief of schools for the District, and Lisa Relou, chief of strategy and communications, cited under-enrollment as the main reason for consolidating schools. The population of school-aged children decreased by 30,000 between 2000 and 2020, Relou said.

The district has the capacity to serve 96,000 students but currently enrolled only 69,000 as of October 2021.

The specific schools to be closed — by consolidating into other elementary schools — were presented and can be found in the board's presentation. The district and board members emphasized that schools were chosen due to various criteria, including enrollment, and was not the fault of educators.

“This is not because of the individuals in these buildings, it is because of the lack of resources these schools have to provide the programming that we all want for our students,” Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools Tracy Dorland said.

According to Relou, if approved, Jeffco will have 67 “District-managed” elementary schools, increasing the average distance between them from 1.3 miles to 1.5 — excluding mountain area schools. Four hundred and twenty-two staff will be affected, as well as about 2,500 K-4 and K-5 students.

There will be two meetings for public comment from the community for each school closing — one in September, another in October, continued Relou. The specific time and date for each school can also be found on the Board of Education’s website.

Relou highlighted that the meetings are not to “assess or debate whether to close any particular school” or the process for the recommendations, but to look “forward aspirationally about ‘the possible.”

“It’s hard that we have to do this work … unfortunately we’re at a point where we don’t have a choice,” Relou told Colorado Community Media earlier in the week. “We have to start to do something about this."

The district further elaborated that this consolidation of elementary schools is Phase One of this consolidation process they call “Regional Opportunities for Thriving Schools.” Nov. 10 will be the final vote by the board to close the suggested elementary schools, as well as a vote to start Phase Two, which is expected to begin in January of 2023.

Phase Two consists of the district bringing a similar recommendation for consolidations of secondary schools, including K-8, in the fall of 2023. Relou emphasized that the criteria for Phase Two will be different than Phase One. 

The criteria used for each recommended elementary school to be closed can be found on the board’s website as well, with general criteria including schools that either had an enrollment of fewer than 220 K-2, K-5 and K-6 students or using less than 45% of their capacity, and there is another school less 3.5 miles away that could serve those students.

Relou pointed out that even though schools paired for consolidation are in close proximity, busing might be needed.

For educators and staff in these closing schools, Relou said they will “have an opportunity to interview for positions at the new boundary school and other district schools.”

She continued that the district will follow agreements with the Jefferson County Education Association — which represents educators in the district — with teachers staying employed for a year following the consolidation and that educators from these closed schools will be “prioritized for interviews.”

On this process, JCEA President Brooke Williams said they will be looking to save jobs through attrition.

“We’re also going to have to go back to the bargaining table and bargain MOUs around this process, what it looks like," Williams said.

They’ve bargained similar memos of understanding — agreements to collaborate — with the District to address mental health issues for the 2022-2023 school year.

Relou continued that the district wants to be transparent.

“We have criteria of what we are looking for in elementary schools,” Relou said. “We may have to consider individual elementary schools’ decisions, but we do not anticipate an additional district-wide consolidation recommendation.”

After the district’s presentation, the board also commented on the need to be transparent with these decisions, complementing the district in doing so with the presentation and data. 

Stephanie Schooley, president of the Board of Education, finished the meeting by saying the challenge is not just a public school issue, but “it has a lot to do with how schools are funded, with zoning laws that prevent or encourage housing and children coming in and moving into neighborhoods.”

She highlighted the need to work with the local government on these issues to address what's causing the low enrollment. “There are a host of other factors,” she said.

“A lot of people feel a sense of betrayal, but we recognize that declining enrollment has been a problem for years, and it’s just gotten worse,” said Williams. “But it’s also exacerbated by how we fund our public schools, and this has prevented educators from giving students the best opportunities and resources for many years.”

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