Offering Ideas to Address Stapleton School Overcrowding Challenge

What to do if you’re a school district, you have a fast-growing neighborhood, and not enough tax revenue to meet the promises to build schools for the elementary and middle school kids in the area? Well, Denver Public Schools is confronting that problem right now in regards to the Stapleton neighborhood. A meeting with community members “to share a list of options about what to do about overcrowding” is scheduled for next Tuesday.

While it’s hard to argue that this situation isn’t a sticky one, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow nevertheless has written a new piece for Education News Colorado (also re-posted at the Independence Institute website), proposing some suggestions to help the district and citizens think outside the box a bit.

Here’s the flavor:

Typically, districts sell bonds to purchase the cost of new construction directly. But DPS instead could adopt some form of public-private partnership to meet family demand and add more classroom space. Other districts have taken this approach to build schools more quickly and at a lower price….

But if the savings realized under such a public-private partnership would not be enough, DPS could consider pursuing another path, as well. The board could contract with local independent schools to provide education services. Families who can’t find space in the neighborhood school might jump at the idea. It wouldn’t be a first. The district has contracted with the private Escuela de Tlatelolco in northwest Denver.

Or better yet, the district could offer families a tuition voucher so they could select an independent school that best suits their children’s needs. The state supreme court’s 2004 decision to strike down the legislature’s pilot voucher program was based entirely on a supposed violation of the constitution’s “local control” provision. A locally-funded program overcomes this legal objection.

Also, parents who wish to stay within the public system could work with the school board to authorize a new public charter school in their neighborhood….

Also of value, the John Locke Foundation’s Terry Stoops has offered up some school district construction principles gleaned from experiences in North Carolina.

Whatever the case, here’s hoping that Stapleton community members demand efficient and effective alternatives from DPS. The sticky situation should be looked at as an opportunity to expand the possibilities for how school buildings are constructed and financed, and for how students are served.