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DPS Board Votes to Close Denver Discovery After Years of Declining Enrollment

The Denver Public Schools board voted Thursday to close Central Park’s Denver Discovery (middle) School in June.

The board also agreed to close two elementary schools, Fairview and Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy. All three have fewer than 120 students. Schools under 215 students are generally considered financially unstainable.

DDS has 93 students this year and is projected to have 62 students in 2023-24. Denver Public Schools is spending $31,517 for each of DDS’ students – $21,000 above the district per pupil average, as reported by last week. This year, 86% of DDS’ students qualify for free or reduced lunch – a common measurement of low income students — and 90% are minority, according to the DPS 2022-23 School Choice and Enrollment Snapshot.

DDS opened in 2014 and began losing students following the 2016-17 school year. Its original principal left, followed by a series of interim leaders; its education program, discipline and test scores suffered. By 2018-19, enrollment dropped from well over 400 to 264. A permanent principal was hired in 2021, but by then, enrollment had dropped to 113, then to 93 this year.

Board member Scott Esserman called the DDS saga “an institutional failure” by the district.

DPS funds its schools by the number of students. Fewer students. Less money. The district spends additional money on what it calls “critically low-enrolled” schools to ensure students receive services they need if their routine per pupil allocation is insufficient to do that.

Thursday’s vote ends nearly six months of back and forth with the board about the fate of the three schools that have lost students annually for several years. Another 12 schools (see list below) are also precariously staying open. Marrero and the board intend to make decisions on those in the fall.

Board members late last year rejected closure recommendations from Marrero citing poor engagement with the school communities about their likely fates. On Thursday the board praised the administration for working well with the schools and their families this time.

DDS students will not be guaranteed a seat in another middle school. The district plans to help students attend a school of their choice. DDS students living in the Greater Park Hill-Central Park Middle School Enrollment Zone will be eligible for transportation if they live outside the walk-zone for their selected school. DDS staff will receive assistance finding other positions.

There are two traditional DPS middle schools in the zone: McAuliffe International and the Denver Green School – Northfield. Two charter middle schools are also in Central Park: DSST — Montview and DSST – Conservatory Green.

Math and Science Leadership Academy students will have seats at Valverde Elementary which is next door; the schools are located west of I-25 and south of Alameda Avenue. Parents could also choose other schools. MSLA staff members are assured of a job at Valverde unless they prefer somewhere else.

Fairview is located south of Mile High Stadium. Its students are guaranteed seats and transportation to Cheltenham Elementary, less than 1½ miles away. Fairview staff  also have jobs at Cheltenham unless they prefer going elsewhere. An executive principal currently runs both schools.

The Denver Housing Authority argued against Fairview’s closure. DHA is completing an affordable housing project near the school that the agency says could bring hundreds new students. District planners disagree with DHA’s projections. The district plans to hold onto the building and could reopen it if a large number of students emerge.

Twelve other schools have “concerning enrollment’’ of under 200. Marrero has said he expects to issue recommendations on their futures in September.

District enrollment has been declining for several years. Since 2014, K-5 schools lost 6,485 students. Middle school enrollment has gone down by 1,612 since 2019. The district expects to lose 3,000 more students over the next five years.

Since 2019, DPS enrollment has dropped from 94,000 to 89,213 this year. The unsettling enrollment also has caused a potential $9 million budget shortfall next year.

According to a district report, subsidies next year for the three “critically low-enrolled” schools:

DDS: $1,056,611

MSLA: $693,282

Fairview: $680,139

The same report noted the projected enrollment and subsidy next year for the other dozen schools:

  • International Academy of Denver at Harrington, 131 students, $519,708 subsidy.
  • Columbian Elementary, 141 students, $537,838 subsidy.
  • Schmitt Elementary, 142 students, $531,651 subsidy.
  • Hallett Academy, 171 students, $1,049,172 subsidy.
  • Palmer Elementary, 175 students, $352,626 subsidy.
  • Kaiser Elementary, 175 students, $360,053 subsidy.
  • Whittier K-8 School, 186 students, $300,932 subsidy.
  • Colfax Elementary, 192 students, $247,447 subsidy.
  • Eagleton Elementary, 194 students, $211,134 subsidy.
  • Ashley Elementary, 198 students, $105,179 subsidy.
  • Beach Court Elementary, 201 students, need $86,618 subsidy.
  • Cole Arts and Sciences Academy, 209 students, $37,122 subsidy.


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