School closures: More big districts are making tough choices

Seattle could close 20 elementary schools. Ohio's largest district also has its eye on middle and high school adjustments.

Seattle Public Schools calls its closure plan, which could impact up to 20 buildings, “A System of Well-Resourced Schools.” Columbus City Schools’ proposal aims to reimagine and redesign education in Ohio’s largest city and district.

They’re both examples of the tough choices superintendents and their teams are grappling with as declining numbers, school choice and other factors sap enrollment in many parts of the country. Seattle is moving toward consolidating 70 elementary schools—many of them under-enrolled—into 50 by the 2025-26 school year to provide “stability and consistency.”

“Empty seats can lead to fewer staffing resources, more staffing adjustments in the beginning of the school year and inequitable offerings from school to school,” the district says on its website. “If we maintain the current system, we will need to reduce services. This could mean having more students per teacher, reducing core school staff, scaling back preschool offerings and suspension of new curriculum adoption.”

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The district, which warns it may have to close schools even if the current plan is not approved, is now holding community meetings to get feedback on its proposal. Administrators say the goals of the school closures will include those identified by families, staff and students at previous listening sessions. Residents have told the district they want:

  • Multiple teachers per grade level
  • Stable support staff
  • Inclusive learning for every student
  • Social and emotional learning support
  • Art, music and PE teachers
  • Stable operational budgets
  • Safe, healthy and beautiful school grounds
  • Space for preschool
  • Connections to the community

Leaders at Columbus City Schools have shared with the community nine closure scenarios that would also impact middle and high schools. The district, which is seeking community input online and at a series of ongoing facilities task force meetings, spends more money per facility than the national average. Savings realized from closing buildings could go to enhancing instruction and other activities, Superintendent Angela Chapman explained at a recent school board meeting.

Leaders have proposed consolidating elementary schools and turning at least one high school into a middle school by 2025-26. “We know the learning spaces of yesterday are not preparing our students for the opportunities of tomorrow,” Chapman said. “We intend to maximize our resources to provide more robust academic and extracurricular programming, including the arts and athletics.”

Plano ISD in Texas is also in the planning stages of shutting down schools. The Dallas-area district reports on its website that enrollment has dropped to 47,800 from a peak of 55,700 in 2021. Other pressures include decreasing birth rates and rising home costs that have hit an average of $584,000, surpassing prices in surrounding districts farther from the Dallas metroplex.

School closures canceled

A similar process was underway in Colorado’s Poudre School District north of metropolitan Denver due to an expected enrollment decline of up to 10% and the potential loss of $40 million in funding in the coming years. Leaders were considering the closure of up to half a dozen elementary and middle schools but the school board halted the plan earlier this week, heading off any closures in the 2025-26 school year.

According to The Colorado Sun, the decision came after hundreds of families and community members protested the closures outside this week’s school board meeting.

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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