About 500 students, parents and teachers hoping to keep their schools open packed Summit Ridge Middle School on Nov. 16 to give their two cents and listen to a horde of proposals from others.
Jeffco Public Schools faces an $18 million to $20 million budget shortfall for the 2010-11 school year, and bridges to the gap include possible school closures, merging or sharing of facilities, and staff layoffs.
“Nobody wants to have their child affected, but nobody has a workable solution to our budget problems,” said Bob West, co-chair of the Facilities Usage Committee, a group of about 30 volunteers who will be reviewing public comment before submitting recommendations to the school board, which will make the final facilities decisions.
The committee recently finished its public comment sessions. The last forum was held Nov. 18 at Pomona High School.
Maximizing use of the current buildings in the district is among the criteria that will be used to determine which schools will stay open, share space or absorb students and faculty from other schools. Proposed elimination of mobile classroom buildings and cottages, which are housing units converted for school use, could reduce maintenance and energy costs, the committee states. The empty units would be sold, donated or demolished.
One of the proposed changes includes closing and selling Ken Caryl Middle School. Students from Ken Caryl would be slated for enrollment at Deer Creek Middle School under the current proposal. Carmody Middle School is also being considered for closure.
Among the concerns raised about Ken Caryl’s closure are financial feasibility, student safety and future demand for a middle school in the area.
“We have recently invested nearly $3 million into building upgrades,” Ken Caryl teacher Rachel Barb said of new purchases such as lockers, carpet and furniture. “It would be really sad to lose those.”
Some Ken Caryl students would have to cross Wadsworth Boulevard to get to Deer Creek, which some say could be dangerous.
“They don’t have cars. They’re 12,” Barb said. “They’d have to be bused, or it would cause significant danger for kids to be crossing Wadsworth. … Right now, two-thirds of our population walks to school.”
Currently, no Jeffco middle schools are operating above their buildings’ capacities. Since enrollment-to-capacity levels are relatively low at some schools, combining student populations at neighboring facilities could help the district optimize resources. Ken Caryl, with 581 students, is 86 percent full, while Deer Creek, at only 45 percent of capacity, has room to accommodate 652 more students. Ken Caryl also uses 4,800 square feet of temporary classroom buildings, and Deer Creek has none.
“This is one of those situations (in which) there may not be good alternatives,” Ken Caryl principal Patrick Sandos said in an interview. “I understand that there have to be cuts. … These are dire times.”
Combining the two schools would create a large student body that would put Deer Creek near its capacity.
“I have some concerns about 1,100 kids in one building,” Sandos said. “I don’t know that you can meet individual needs in a building that size (with that many students).”
District-wide considerations could be implemented to save money and take the pressure off individual schools, suggested Julie Thomas, Ken Caryl’s librarian.
“We do have a couple of options,” Thomas said. “One that has not been mentioned is to adopt a four-day workweek across the district. Savings can be gained in utilities and in energy costs.
When you close schools, it’s hard to go backward,” she said, as opposed to making reversible decisions, such as creating a four-day week.
Alternatives to closing the school have been suggested by the Committee to Save Ken Caryl Middle School, a group of area residents and parents. The committee recommends moving all sixth-grade or ninth-grade classes in the Chatfield area to Deer Creek Middle School.
Neither the Facilities Usage Committee nor the school board has made any final decisions.
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. “What I can commit is that we will put our hearts and souls into making the transition good for kids. Because at the end of the day, we’ve got to think about the kids.”
Public comment at the forums was civil and considerate, Stevenson said. Recommendations that the board pursue other options in light of the budget shortfall have been frequent, she said, but the board has already made significant cuts in other areas.
“We cut 50 teaching positions for the 09-10 (school year),” she said.
“There will be jobs (cut) from every part of the organization. … administrative jobs, teaching jobs, support jobs.”
The district was unable to win voter approval for a mill-levy increase and bond issue in November 2008, and budget cuts have been an unavoidable topic since.
Final decisions about staff reductions will likely be made in February or March, Stevenson said, though facility use options are slated to be determined before that.
“We’d like to make decisions in January,” she said. “Because if you’re going to close a school or move sixth grade, or whatever you’re going to do, you’ve got to do it well.”
The anticipated budget shortfall for the next academic year takes into account $30 million in reserve funds the district will spend to help cover shortfalls. Part of the decrease in funding is due to a $35 million cut in state funds, which will be spread out over the next two years, Stevenson said. The 2010-11 school year budget will absorb an initial $11 million, and the remaining $24 million reduction will follow in 2011-12.
The school district has 84,500 students and currently spends about $700 million per year to cover operating costs.
To access audio recordings of prior public comment forums, or to get more information about the committee, visit www.jeffcopublicschools.org and go to the “Facilities Usage Committee” link on the left side of the page.