Dwindling districts? Why leaders are now closing dozens of schools

Falling enrollment is the key culprit across the country, but there are other forces driving decisions as well.   

San Antonio ISD in Texas has approved a plan for closing 15% of its schools. Jackson Public Schools in Mississippi may shutter a dozen buildings. Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan is considering 10 closures. Dwindling enrollment is the key culprit across the country, but there are other forces driving these decisions as well.

Under San Antonio ISD’s “rightsizing plan,” leaders decided this week to close 15 buildings—mostly elementary schools—at the end of the 2023-24 school year. The district, once the 10th largest in Texas, now has 2.2 schools per 1,000 students, while the national average for districts with more than 20,000 students is 1.6 per 1,000.

Since 1998, San Antonio ISD’s enrollment has declined steadily from 61,112 to 45,285 while projections show birth rates and the school-age population continuing to decrease in the region for the next five to 10 years. A shortage of housing for young families is another cause of enrollment declines, the district says.

“This journey is not just about numbers and budgets; it’s about creating a more equitable, inclusive and thriving educational environment for all our students,” Superintendent Jaime Aquino said at a recent school board meeting, according to the San Antonio Report.

Enrollment is also declining in nearby Austin ISD, though the population in Texas’ capital is “booming,” according to Axios. Austin ISD’s enrollment has dropped from nearly 80,000 in 2018 to 73,000 this year. The district closed four elementary schools in 2019-2020 but officials say there are no plans to close any additional buildings even though half of its 116 campuses are operating at less than 70% capacity.

Closings schools nationwide

Leaders at Jackson Public Schools in Mississippi are considering closing and consolidating as many as 16 buildings, mostly elementary schools, under its optimization plan. The district’s enrollment has dropped by 9,500 students since 2015 and repairing the schools on the closure list would cost nearly $175, according to WLBT.

“We’re at the point where we’ve kicked this can down the road long enough. We’ve avoided the conversations and these tough decisions long enough,” Superintendent Errick Greene said. “We now have to make some decisions.”

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The money saved by closing 10 buildings at Grand Rapids Public Schools in Michigan will be re-invested in programs, Superintendent Leadriane Roby told WZZM13. The district’s buildings are now operating at around 50% capacity.

“We are really excited because it’s also about what we will get in return,” Roby said in the interview, adding that no staff will be laid off under the closure plan. “We are looking at building stronger programming that allows us to do some consolidating of our staff, and also that allows for more electives, strong articulation from our Pre-K all the way through our 12th grade.”

And in California, enrollment declines are forcing Hacienda La Puente USD to close four schools at the end of the 2023-24 school year. The district will not lay off any staff and class sizes should remain at current levels, Superintendent Alfonso Jiménez said in a message to the community.

“This is an exceptionally difficult situation, and we understand that our district community will need time to process and adjust to the change,” Jiménez concluded.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of District Administration and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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