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Stapleton parents frustrated, meet to discuss lack of school funding

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Hundreds of Stapleton families, many with kids in tow, turned out Wednesday evening to a community meeting at Bill Roberts K-8 to demand another school be built in the neighborhood.

Stapleton’s two elementary schools are filled to capacity, and a baby boom is expected to bring even more children, but there is no funding for a new school.

Moms and dads looking for answers from officials from Denver Public Schools, the city and the developer filled the school’s gymnasium, sitting in the bleachers, in chairs and on the floor.

What they heard was a lesson in tax-increment financing, the tricky science of forecasting future pupils and the problems of the current economy. Audience members also wrote down questions that were fielded by a panel of officials.

“I was frustrated that I heard no solutions,” said Sarah Deatherage, a mother of two children younger than 3 who is looking into private schools or possibly moving.

“We didn’t hear where they will get the money, where they will send our kids if they can’t get in or what they are going to do,” she said.

Construction in Stapleton occurs under tax-increment financing — a funding tool that uses future tax gains to pay for current improvements.

However, the faltering economy has slowed tax collection, meaning bonding for new construction such as school buildings is out of the question for now, said Cameron Bertron, redevelopment manager of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, which helps finance the revitalization of once-blighted areas such as Stapleton.

In Stapleton, elementary and middle schools are to be constructed with money generated within the community — not by using district money.

The development’s master plan calls for four public elementary schools and one middle school. But no new school is in the immediate future despite an obvious need — as evidenced by the number of children crowded into a small play gym while their parents attended the meeting.

Denver
Parents crowd the gym at Bill Roberts K-8 for Wednesday night’s meeting. Denver Public Schools estimates up to 200 more students by next year for Stapleton’s two elementary schools. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)
Public Schools estimates up to 200 more students by next year for Stapleton’s two schools and up to 300 new students the following year.

Forty percent of 1,273 households that responded to a survey by the Stapleton Foundation said they had children 2 or younger.

“There are more children in the houses than there is capacity in the schools,” said Bertron of DURA.

DPS officials said there are a few temporary fixes they will examine, including ending the preschool programs for 3-year-olds to create more space or adding modular classrooms.

Marc Waxman, executive director of the DPS Office of School Reform and Innovation, said options will be discussed with the public in the fall, with final solutions coming no later than the winter to provide parents time to make school-choice decisions.

Development in Stapleton is expected to follow the construction of a $50 million interchange at Central Park Boulevard and Interstate 70 that could hasten the construction of a new school, Bertron said.

For most of the meeting, Luke and Julie Siekmeier sat on the gym floor with their towheaded 2-year-old, Clayton, wondering whether he would be able to go to one of his neighborhood schools.

“After three years, this is going to be a dire issue, probably sooner,” Luke said. “There should have been foresight with all of these young families moving in here.

“I hope they find the funds, because they are going to need to soon,” he said.

Jeremy P. Meyer: 303-954-1367 or jpmeyer@denverpost.com

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