Simla Elementary School kindergarteners head to the gym at the Big Sandy School Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. There were fewer than 20 children enrolled Simla's half-day kindergarten program this year. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

By Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat Colorado

As Denver families are pushed out by high housing costs, declining enrollment is emerging as a notable budget issue for the school district, signaling that hard conversations about school consolidations could be coming.

A recent presentation to the Denver school board highlighted the challenges. One of the biggest? The predicted rise in the number of small schools. That’s a financial problem because Denver schools are funded per pupil. The fewer students a school has, the less money it has to pay for the teachers, supplies, and programming that make schools attractive in a competitive environment where families can request to attend any school in the district.

Denver Public Schools helps small schools by funding any school with fewer than 215 students as if it had that many students. That ensures schools can afford what Denver Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Erik Johnson called “the bare-bones minimum,” including one teacher per grade, one principal, one secretary, and student mental health support.

This year, there are eight schools with fewer than 215 students, which is costing the district $1.05 million in subsidies. Next year, the district is predicting there will be nine.Last year, Chalkbeat spent time in one of Denver’s smallest schools. Read more.

But by 2022, the district predicts there could be as many as 19 schools with fewer than 215 students, which would cost the district $3.4 million in subsidies. That’s less than 1 percent of the district’s $1 billion budget — but in a state where per-pupil spending on education lags well behind the national average, district officials argued that every dollar counts.


Chalkbeat Colorado

Twitter: @ChalkbeatCO