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DCSD mulls options to manage school capacity

By Carin R. Kirkegaard

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The Douglas County School District (DCSD) is currently evaluating student enrollment throughout the district, including school capacity, enrollment numbers and attendance boundaries for all DCSD schools. Scenarios for possible changes in the future will be presented at a Board of Education (BOE) meeting on March 10.

“We have pockets in our district that are growing and pockets that have declining enrollment,” said DCSD Chief Operations Officer Rich Cosgrove.

Growth in neighborhoods being built off Lagae Road and also on the east side of I-25, combined with DCSD’s recent survey asking questions about attendance boundary preferences, has led many Castle Pines neighbors wondering what is in store for the community’s schools in the future.

For the last few years, student growth within the district has overall been unremarkable. Across the DCSD, roughly 68,000 students attend 91 schools. The 2019-2020 Master Capital Plan (MCP) outlines enrollment projections across the district for a five-year period. Currently, there are elementary, middle and high schools with classrooms that have a student in every seat and others that have entire empty classrooms.

According to this year’s MCP, Castle Pines has two schools – Rock Canyon High School and Rocky Heights Middle School – trending toward over-utilization, and Timber Trail Elementary is trending toward under-utilization.

Cosgrove said, “Rock Canyon is nearing ideal program capacity, but it is not over capacity.” The MCP is typically within a half percent variance from the enrollment projection to the actual, district wide, he said.

Next year’s MCP will include some of the growth within the City of Castle Pines, taking into consideration building permits and certificates of occupancy for the houses being built. “But, there is typically a lag between a home being moved into and a student,” Cosgrove explained.

In conjunction with third-party consultant Western Demographics Inc., DCSD conducted a district-wide survey last December asking five questions regarding how best to handle building occupant discrepancies throughout the district. Seeking feedback from students, parents, teachers, staff and other community members, the survey had nearly 15,000 responses with parents or guardians being the largest participants.

Survey questions presented different scenarios that could help realign enrollment in schools that are over and under-utilized. Modifying current school attendance boundaries to optimize school utilization received the highest support at 83%, while continuing the district’s current practice of new school construction and using mobiles to address capacity was a close second at 80%. Using district policies to manage enrollment was also favorably received at 80%.

Moving sixth graders from elementary schools to middle schools was supported overall, although results were divided. Parents from schools with sixth graders already attending the middle school were in support, while parents of K-6 elementary school kids were less supportive.

Across the board, all respondents were opposed to expanding the number of K-8 schools.

When asked if busing students from an over-crowded school to a school with room is an option, Cosgrove responded by saying, “Busing is not one of the scenarios being considered.” When asked specifically about students in the southern portion of the Castle Pines community and if there is a possibility that those families could be redistricted to the Castle View High School feeder area, Cosgrove indicated that boundary changes were one of the options being considered.

Currently, Western Demographics is vetting the feasibility of all the scenarios, and findings are scheduled to be presented at the BOE meeting on March 10 (all BOE meeting agendas are posted by 5 p.m. on the Friday before the scheduled meeting at www.dcsdk12.org.

In April, DCSD will host community forums specific to each school and feeder area, allowing for public questions and feedback.

The BOE will then vote on what actions to take. In general, the consultant indicated that implementation of any given scenario could take 12 to 18 months.

Kevin Leung, BOE director for the Castle Pines district said that he welcomes all questions and input from constituents.  He can be reached at kleung@dcsdk12.org.

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