Jeffco Board of Education will move forward with closing Pleasant View Elementary School in Golden next school year.
Other schools that had been considered for closure — Peck Elementary in Arvada, Pennington Elementary in Wheat Ridge, Stober Elementary in Lakewood, and Swanson Elementary in Arvada — will stay open.
“The most difficult decision any school district makes is a school closure,” said board member Ali Lasell. “I’m not looking forward to any closures.”
The five elementary schools in Jefferson County were placed on a possible closure list following the Jan. 26 Board of Education budget cut discussion. The board made decisions on how to move forward at the Feb. 9 meeting, which drew 150 public speakers.
The closure recommendations come after the the board named teacher compensation as its number one priority following the failure of ballot measures 3A/3B on November’s ballot. The proposed closures were part of an effort to save between $20 million and $25 million, with the goal of spending that amount on attracting and retraining high-quality educators. Jeffco teacher salaries average about $10,000 less than their peers in surrounding districts. Closing all five elementary schools would have given the school district an ongoing savings of $3.5 million. Just closing Pleasant View — a school named on the closure list last year also — will save the district $662,742 each year.
The board decision not to move the shift of sixth-graders to middle school next year ahead of schedule, opens up money in the budget to allow some schools to stay open, board member Amanda Stevens said.
The school board voted unanimously to move forward with the closure of Pleasant View Elementary in Golden. Students from Pleasant View will be reallocated to Shelton and Welchester Elementary Schools for the 2017-18 school year. The board approved of spending one-time dollars to place mental health support staff at each absorbing school to help students adjust during the transition year.
The Pleasant View school building on W. 10th Ave. is 67 years old, the oldest of all schools on this year’s closure list. It has a facility condition index rating of 29 percent — a fair rating. This was the third time in six years the school was named for possible closure. Previously, repeated outcry from the community had kept the school open.
“They were loud and clear last year that they didn’t want their school closed,” Lasell said. “I regret to say that their enrollment continues to drop. Just being on a closure list that will happen. So I’m concerned about that.”
Low enrollment and aging building conditions were cited as the main reasons this school specifically was targeted for closure. Enrollment at Pleasant View suffered going into the 2016-17 school year — a total of 222 students enrolled at the beginning of the 2016-17 academic year, the lowest number since 2000.
Because Pleasant View serves such a large percentage of low-income students, it receives federal monies as a Title 1 school, a designation that means many of its students come from low-income households and need additional resources to ensure academic success.
During the 2015-16 school year, 67.2 percent of Pleasant View students were on a free lunch program and 10.5 percent were on a reduced lunch program. Only 55 of the 294 students were not eligible for free or reduced lunch assistance.
There was concern from the board about ensuring that these students still receive the extra programming and funding to make them successful when the filter into new schools.
Jeffco Schools staff assured the board that Welchester Elementary would receive Title 1 status when Pleasant View students transfer in, but Shelton Elementary will not.
The Golden community provides support in several ways to the school. Pleasant View features a miracle shop during the holidays, and just recently launched a Fresh Food Pantry through a partnership with The Action Center of Jefferson County and the Golden Backpack Program — a program that provides a weekend’s worth of food for any child in need that opts in. Through the 21st Century Community Learning Grant, Pleasant View is able to offer free before and after school enrichment clubs. In addition, Golden Tutoring & Enrichment’s MATHrive, an extracurricular academic workshop meant to boost and enrich students’ math skills, is available for free at Pleasant View thanks to a grant from the Golden Schools Foundation.
Welchester Elementary is two-and-a-half miles from Pleasant View and Shelton is three miles.
The next step in the closure process is to freeze enrollment, hold teacher and staff meetings and begin parent meetings. In March, the district will look at teacher assignments and the enrollment process.
The board voted 4-1 to remove Pennington Elementary in Wheat Ridge from the closure list. Board member Brad Rupert was against. The discussion of Pennington Elementary was a difficult one for the board requiring them to table the decision and come back to it later in the meeting.
Pennington was first named to the closure list on Jan. 26.
“The two week timeline, it’s scaring me,” Lasell said. “It makes me feel better if I know the Title 1 money is going to follow them and they will still get their services. I am very torn about this one.”
Pennington was one of three Title 1 schools on the proposed list.
With an enrollment of 199 students, just 78 live within the boundary. The rest of the students enrolled at Pennington choice in.
“I’ve got to have faith that these children will be better off where they land than where they are today,” Rupert said. “And that’s a big leap of faith because what they have there is special.”
After coming back to it following the board decision to close Pleasant View, Board president Ron Mitchell said he was struggling with closing two Title 1 schools in the same night.
“I think the fact that we had trouble getting here tells me that maybe we’re not ready to push that button,” he said.
This was the second year in a row that Stober Elementary in Lakewood was placed on the closure list. The vote to remove Stober from that list was the closest with the Jeffco Board of Education voting 3-2. Board members Amanda Stevens and Susan Harmon were against.
“Whenever a school is named as a possible campus closure, it’s hard on that community,” Stevens said. “I want to minimize the number of times the community has to do this. I don’t want Stober to have the weather this conversation annually.”
Lakewood officials spoke Feb. 9, asking the board to reconsider the Stober closure.
“Stober is more than a school,” Lakewood City Councilman Charley Able told the board of education. “It’s a gathering place, a community center.”
Lakewood City Councilwoman Ramey Johnson echoed Ables comment about Stober by saying, “it’s far more than a building. It’s really the glue for that community.”
The building that houses Stober is 52 years old. It received a facility condition index of 49 percent, a poor rating. It cost $5.41 per square foot to maintain — the highest of all the school proposed for closure.
Lakewood resident and parent Andrew Arthurs, one of 20 to speak on the school’s behalf, asked the board to consider the community over the building.
“Aging infrastructure is a problem, but it’s not a big enough problem to tear apart the community and close the school,” Arthurs told the board. “The benefits of a thriving community and school far outweigh navigating these budget challenges.”
The board majority agreed and Stober will stay open next school year.
The board voted unanimously to keep Swanson Elementary in Arvada open.
“Swanson is a place that my whole family calls home,” Brenna Wascher-Rea told the Jeffco board of education through tears at the Feb. 9 meeting. “A place that welcomes families with open arms — something I didn’t experience in another district.”
The sentiments were the same from 31 public speaker representing the 53 year old school in North East Arvada school.
“If Swanson closes not only will you be breaking up a school and community, you will be breaking up a family,” Samantha Arnold, Swanson alumnae and parent told the board.
The decision to keep Swanson open rested on two things: high performance and the process in which they were named to the closure list.
“I believe it is hard to be a high performing school and I consider growth to be an indicator of high performing and these guys do it,” Lasell said, adding that moving an entire community elsewhere would not offer the same environment.
Swanson was first named to the closure list at a study session on Jan. 26, not allowing school staff or parents much time to prepare for the possible closure.
“We learned of the proposal less than an house before the study session,” Kendra Geise, a Swanson Elementary teacher of 20 years, told the board.
There was a consensus by the board that two weeks is not enough time to ready a community to close and the the process must be revisited.
The Peck community showed an overwhelming amount of support for its school at the Feb. 9 meeting, with 22 speakers and even more in attendance.
Each one pleaded with the board to look at Peck as more than a building, — but as a family.
“Please treat our kids as more than just bodies that can be shifted from school to school,” Jessica Kenne asked the board. “Please treat our school as the community they are.”
Peck has been serving students in North Arvada for 51 years. It takes $5.32 per square foot to maintain — the cheapest per square foot of all five schools on the closure list.
Once again, performance and process were the main reasons the board voted unanimously to keep Peck open next year.
“Peck is a high-performing school and I can’t reconcile in my mind closing a high performing school,” Rupert said. “It’s so difficult to achieve a high level of performance. It takes a mixture of leadership, staff, community — and all those things have to work together for the school to be successful. I don’t think we can be cavalier about duplicating that success.”
Rupert continued saying, “I don’t want to put at risk successful schools or successful programs on the backs of compensation decisions for educators.”
Peck has some enrollment and facilities challenges, Stevens said, but for her, they weren’t significant enough to vote for the school to close.
“There was a process issue wth Peck because it wasn’t part of the facility master plan,” Stevens said.
Mitchell agreed adding, “The simple fact is this is not enough time for us to make this kind of decision to close Peck Elementary. I think we need to look at our process. We need to do some things that can improve the conversation and make it more meaningful.”