Another indication that metro Denver's enormous growth in recent years has started to flag: A July 26 meeting of the board of education for Jefferson County Public Schools focused largely on school closures and consolidation.
This process is already underway: At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, JCPS shut down a pair of elementary schools that served Arvada, Allendale and Fitzmorris. But more facilities are likely to be mothballed or combined in the near future, owing in large part to recent demographic trends. Despite the common belief that Colorado is booming, statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that nineteen counties in the state saw natural population declines from 2020 to 2021, with the largest slumps registered by Denver and Jefferson counties.
This development came as no surprise to state demographer Elizabeth Garner. The peak for births in the United States was 2007, Garner recently told Westword; Colorado is currently recording about 8,000 fewer births than during that year, and the fallout from this development is already being felt.
"If someone was born in 2007, that would make that person somewhere between fourteen and fifteen years old," Garner explained. "But that means there are fewer thirteen-year-olds, fewer twelve-year-olds and fewer eleven-year-olds. Once those fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds age, we'll see absolute declines behind them in terms of total people in Colorado. And that also means fewer people going through the education system. Right now, K-12 schools are looking at that, because that's the population affected."
The ripple effects were outlined in the recent post "Inside Possible Denver Public Schools Closures, Consolidations." In January, Denver Public Schools superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero announced plans to grapple with what DPS media relations manager Scott Pribble said was "an anticipated 6 percent decline in enrollment over the next five years." A group of parents, teachers, staffers and community partners dubbed the Declining Enrollment Advisory Committee is currently looking at options, although Pribble stressed that "any school selected for closure would not close until the end of the 2023-2024 school year."
At last night's Jeffco board of education meeting, the subject was explored in a slideshow with a title intended to dial down potential panic over the situation: "Regional Opportunities for Thriving Schools." But the numbers and graphics unveiled revealed plenty of reasons for concern.
According to the presentation, Jefferson County Public Schools is Colorado's second-largest school district (behind DPS), serving 8 percent of all K-12 students in the state at 155 schools on 168 campuses. However, Colorado as a whole saw a decline of 30,000 students at K-12 schools after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and figures from the Colorado Department of Education indicate that Jeffco was hit the hardest, losing more than 5,000 students from 2019 to 2022. Moreover, Jefferson County census figures demonstrate that the population of school-age children (five to nineteen) decreased by 29,918 from 2000 to 2020, when the area recorded the lowest number of births in fifteen years.
Right now, Jeffco has the "capacity to serve 96,000 students in traditional district-managed schools," one slide notes, "and we currently serve 69,000 students in these schools."
This graphic illustrates enrollment dips over the past half-decade:
This chart provides more details.
Jefferson County Education Association, the district's main teachers' union, is clearly preparing for change. A JCEA statement notes that while the organization "has not yet taken a position on the potential consolidation and closure of schools," it believes "all students deserve access to a high quality education which provides them with opportunities to learn from peers who represent the diversity of the Jeffco community. This is not possible in schools where classroom enrollment is so low it does not include a variety of student voices."