On selling schools

The Urban Land Institute has given DPS a report recommending selling some property immediately to raise money (see Article or Report).

Am I the only person who reads this report and thinks it is counting the trees and obscuring the forest? Amid the myriad pages of qualified biography, there is no mention of the greater DPS mission of educating students or how these assets might be deployed to provide some sort of educational return. You might think these were generic big-box retail spaces, not single-use facilities. Perhaps the most valuable future tenant in at least one or two might be, um, a better school?

Instead, the report contained a single sentence underlined for emphasis: “DPS should not sell any properties to nonprofits for less than market value.”

Presumably under this analysis DSST – clearly the best open-enrollment high school in the city under any academic criteria, and now building their second school in five years, should not be given any discount on buying a school compared to a developer. Nor should DPS use any of this capacity to entice a proven school operator to come to Denver. Nor is education ever mentioned as a criteria.

ULI looked at this issue through the lens of trying to solve a financial problem. But that is the building’s facade — the foundational problem is educational quality. I don’t blame ULI – it’s not the group that’s wrong, it’s the question they were asked. If the instruction was to see how Denver’s students might benefit from these underutilized assets, would the answers have been different?

Until the district starts looking at how it best spends money and deploys assets to first maximize educational value – and secondly economic value – there will continue to be zero correlation between dollars spent and education received.

One can solve financial problems (pension, deficits, etc) for a single point in time, but one cannot rebuild the fiscal health of the district over the long term without vastly improving education.

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