COLORADO SPRINGS — One of the largest school districts in Colorado Springs is doing away with its Equity and Inclusion Department.
Colorado Springs School District 11 created the department two years ago with the help of an $800,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, but its ending in September. The Board of Education plans to not include the department in its preliminary budget for next school year. Since the grant is ending, funds for the department would have to come from the General Fund.
"I think the best thing we can do for the kids is make them successful in life. To do that, they must be good at the basics just like you are. You read, comprehend, and write well. Those fundamental things, and that the best equity policy that we can have," said Dave Donelson, District 11 Stakeholder.
Donelson lives in District 11, and supports the boards' decision, especially since he believed the department accomplished very little in its timespan.
"If we think we must have some focus on that for these kids to be successful, I think Sandra's point is that we've done that in the past, and we didn't need an individualized department to accomplish that. We can accomplish that by not spending thousands of dollars on this separate department," said Donelson.
Board President Dr. Parth Melpakam says declining enrollment was a big factor for not funding the department. The district has lost 4,200 students in four years, resulting in $40 million budget loss.
"The board had to balance the scarcity of resources to that we have in supporting our students in the classroom level and the needs at the administration level," said Melpakam. "The board is committed to ensuring that the maximum amount of dollars goes directly into our classrooms where they can have an impact on our students' education. Ensuring our students have support, and our classrooms at a smaller level."
While the department may be going away, Melpakam says the equity work will continue in the district. It will fall to Department Heads, and the results of the audit results will be weaved into curriculum, facilites, and hiring practices.
"The equity audit went about seeing where the gaps existed in student achievement data," said Melpakam.
News 5 learned the district will not have to pay back the grant since they've accomplish most of the requirements.
Some parents say they're still concerned that equity and inclusion training and resources will not be provided moving forward.
"It seems like there will be a potential for things to get pushed off. How do we make sure that the things that need to be done , get done. Will those be compensated for more of that work," said Melissa Hall, District 11 parent.
Hall wants to see the district include the department in the preliminary budget.
"There is just too much of we have money to do this but not to do that," said Hall.
"I support the school board, they were elected and I think we need to give them time to move forward on this path that they're on," said Donelson.
The district plans to hold a town hall meeting at the Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus in the cafeteria from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on April 20th. They'll be listening to community feedback, provide clarity on recent happenings, and gather stakeholder input that will inform our future work. RSVP your intent to attend at the following link.
The Board continues to explore various options to retain and attract new families to D11 including:
- Offering free after-school enrichment programs at several of our elementary schools, beginning in the 2022-23 academic year
- Extending the elementary school day (with staff compensation) by up to 30 minutes to address learning loss and the social/emotional impacts due to COVID; collaborative conversations with our employee groups currently taking place
- Recommending smaller class sizes in kindergarten to third grade, so our teachers can better meet the individual needs of students
- Providing supportive environments and excellence in education for every student regardless of zip code through Quality Neighborhood Schools; details can be found at https://www.d11.org/amp
- Increasing academic offerings through distinctive pathway schools and expanded college and career options
- Supporting our students with engaging educational opportunities at this year’s Summer Bridge Program; details can be found at https://www.d11.org/summerbridge
- Hiring a dedicated marketing coordinator who can promote our schools and inform the Colorado Springs community of the programs available to bolster student enrollment.
The board will vote on the new budget by June.