AURORA | Several days before the Aurora Public Schools board of education makes another vote on the controversial decision to close Sable Elementary, about 200 people rallied at Cottonwood Park in Aurora to demand it stay open.
Sable Elementary was recommended for closure in December as part of the district’s ongoing Blueprint APS process to manage declining enrollment on the western side of the district. Superintendent Rico Munn recommended that for Region 1 of the district, Sable and Paris elementary schools be closed after the 2022-2023 school year and a magnet school focused on health open on the campus of North Middle School along with a P-TECH program, a six-year program beginning in ninth grade that allows students to graduate with a high school diploma and a college associate’s degree.
A large contingent of Sable parents and teachers rallied against the decision, which they said came as a shock because Sable was not on the original list of schools being considered for closure and would destabilize the neighborhood. At its March meeting, the board ultimately voted 4-3 to reject the recommendation. That brought the decision back to the drawing board, and at its May 17 meeting Munn will present the board with a new set of Region 1 recommendations to decide.
On Saturday, community members holding “save Sable” signs and wearing the school’s purple colors asked the board to reaffirm its decision not to close Sable and Paris. Sable teachers and alumni who delivered remarks expressed frustration that district leadership had not done anything to reach out to the community between the March vote and now. Others were critical of the Blueprint process as a whole and the district’s claims that it needs to reduce operating costs to stay financially sound.
“Blueprint APS is a poor plan for the future,” said Sable teacher Leslie Burton. She encouraged the crowd to hold elected officials accountable for their vote.
“Your voice is important. You matter,” she said.
Linnea Reed-Ellis, president of the Aurora Education Association, said that Sable was a “rock” in the northwest Aurora neighborhood and deserved to stay open.
“When a school is closed it does irreparable harm to a neighborhood,” Reed-Ellis said. “We are here today to say, do not harm our neighbors. Keep Sable and other schools open.”
According to district documents, on Tuesday the board will be presented with three options for how to proceed with Blueprint.
Stay the course: The board can vote to continue to move forward with recommendations for Region 1, either by accepting the March recommendations (which would necessitate the closure of Sable and Paris) or by giving Munn different criteria with which to make recommendations. If criteria is revised, Munn will give the board a new recommendation in the future which may or may not include some of the same schools as previously recommended for closure.
This option would also give the board the opportunity to implement mechanisms updating Blueprint APS, which began under a different set of school board members and before the upheavals caused by the pandemic.
Pause: The board can vote to temporarily suspend the Blueprint APS process for six months until late 2022 while the board engages in additional study of its options and community engagement, and then provide new or revised directives to the superintendent in January 2023.
During the pause, the district would provide schools operating at enrollments of 350 students or fewer with a small school subsidy to keep them stable. In total this would cost about $4.3 million, according to district documents.
Abandon: The board can vote to entirely abandon the Blueprint APS process five years in and develop a new framework for how it wants to manage declining enrollment. This would revert school closure decisions to a previous, more formulaic policy and would likely halt the development of future specialized magnet schools in the regions where they are not already in process of opening.
This could result in the district using a small school subsidy model to keep more low-enrollment schools like Sable open, but would not do away with school closures overall, according to district documents.
At the rally, board member Vicki Reinhard said she had a clear understanding of the board’s options but that she still had questions about some of the implications.
“This is going to impact a lot of people and we need to be clearly aware of what we’re voting on,” she said.
Board members Reinhard and Tramaine Duncan, who voted against the recommendation in March, and Michael Carter and Anne Keke, who voted for it, were present at the rally. Regardless of how they voted, the board members all said they had a responsibility as elected officials to be present for their constituents.
“Our job as the school board is to listen,” Carter said. “We still have to make what we believe are the best decisions, but everybody gets to speak.”
The board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at APS’ Professional Learning and Conference Center and will also be streamed live on YouTube.