School District panel whittles down facilities options

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JEFFERSON COUNTY – The latest list of possible Jeffco School District building-use changes or possible outright school closures includes a handful of local options that could save the district millions a year, but at a potential cost of convenience for school kids and their parents.

A task force of school district officials and community members are examining the use of the district’s facilities and some properties could wind up on the chopping block, including Lakewood’s Carmody Middle School.

Other possibilities that would affect schools in Lakewood are four different options: moving all 6th graders in the Alameda High School area to O’Connell Middle School; closing O’Connell, but apparently not selling the school – and moving it’s 7th and 8th grade students to Alameda High; moving Devinney Elementary School’s 6th Grade students to Dunstan Middle School; and distributing Carmody Middle School students to Creighton, Dunstan and O’Connell middle schools and closing and selling Carmody.

The district, at present, is financially healthy with some $160 million in reserves, but those reserves were built with the understanding “that we would have to spend them down” eventually, said Dr. Cindy Stevenson, district superintendent.

Last spring, the district decided to take a look at the long-term decisions, some of them difficult ones, to keep the schools operating on a sound financial footing.

“One of the issues that came up was: Do we need all the buildings that we have, are we using our buildings in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Stevenson said.

To find the answer, the district appointed the 30-member task force comprised of school district staff and citizens. They have been working since March and have culled a list of 45 options involving schools across the district down to 30 possible changes after a series of meetings to gather public input.

The School Board originally had hoped to consider the issue at a January meeting, but that could be delayed, according to School District sources..

The potential savings on the table could vary from a few thousand dollars to more than million a year, depending on which options the school board chooses when they consider the recommendations, Stevenson said.

“It has to do with A: being efficient and using every dollar we can. And B: Do we need all our facilities,” she said.

The remaining options do not target 30 specific schools or properties, instead they involve combinations of options and many of the properties under scrutiny each involve various options from closing and selling schools to transferring students so temporary buildings could be eliminated.

For instance, Option 1A, which proposes moving 6th graders from Deane, Kendrick Lakes, Lasley, Patterson and Stein elementary schools to O’Connell would save the district an estimated $81,900 a year, but would carry a one-time cost of $130,000, according to School District estimates.

Option 1B – moving 7th and 8th grades from O’Connell, sending them to Alameda High and closing O’Connel – could save the district $1.3 million a year, but at a one-time cost of about $115,000 and ongoing costs of $52,200 a year, according to estimates.

But under Option 17B – dispersing Carmody Middle School students to other middle schools and selling Carmody, the district would save just more than $1 million a year and reap the sale price of the school, which has not been estimated. The closing would carry an estimated one-time cost of $82,367 and another $158,000 in on-going annual expenses.

That compares with the estimated savings estimate of $25,815 annually under Option 17A, moving Devinney 6th graders to Dunstan. The district estimates that move would carry a single cost: a one-time expenditure of $52,500.

Enrollment is one of six criteria the task force used to compile their list of options. They also considered each school’s academic achievement, the conditions of each building, the capacity use of each school, how many students are enrolled in each school as a “school of choice” and operating costs of each property.

“If you close a school, you have to look at whether you save it or you keep it,” Stevenson said. The ones that look most likely to be closed probably would be sold,

“and a variety of people want to buy school buildings,” she added. But other properties “wouldn’t be very logical to put on sale because they are not in a place where that people are going to develop.”

The task force also looked at the district’s vacant land inventory, but found that most of those properties are encumbered by agreements with cities or the county that restrict their disposal.

“The city might own a big chunk of the land as a park, so you really can’t sell most of them,” Stevenson said. “A lot of the land we own, we don’t really own it. When you get land from a developer, frequently – if you don’t buy it outright and they dedicate that land – and if you don’t build a school on it in a certain number of years, the land reverts to the city or county.”

Written comments on the proposals can be submitted by e-mail at facilities@jeffco.k-12.co.us through Dec. 10 via an on-line form.

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