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Board Meeting Packed Over Proposal To Close 5 Schools

By Lauren DiSpirito

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) - Approximately 475 people attended a Jefferson County School Board meeting on Thursday as the board mulls proposed cuts that could include closing five elementary schools, defunding the district's only Gifted and Talented high school program, shift sixth-grade students to middle schools, and reducing staff positions.

Before the meeting parents donned t-shirts with messages that read "We are Peck," and handed out "Save our Schools" Valentine's treats.

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Inside the meeting many parents and teachers told the board that if it closes their schools it would break up communities.

After two failed ballot measures the school board tasked the district with finding ways to cut $20 million from its budget. It wants to reallocate that money toward higher teacher and staff compensation to retain its current teachers and attract competitive new candidates.

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In return the district suggested the cuts, which include closing its five oldest elementary school buildings, which the district says carry the highest maintenance costs -- Peck and Swanson elementary schools in Arvada, Pennington Elementary in Wheat Ridge, Stober Elementary in Lakewood, and Pleasant View Elementary in Golden.

At Stober elementary parents describe the district's proposal to close the school as a punch to the gut.

"We're on this major upward trajectory, kids are doing great, test scores are raising every year, and it just feels like it's being pulled out from underneath them," said Laura Scholtz.

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One-hundred-fifty people signed up to speak at the board's meeting. A parent of a Peck student told the board the school has become a family and asked the board to consider keeping the school open.

"Please treat our kids as more than just bodies that can be shifted from school to school," Jessica Keen said.

The school board will have to decide what to do by spring, at the latest, when the budget is finalized.

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"We understand that the building is old and the district is in a very difficult situation, but we just feel like this is a very abrupt decision," said Jennifer Giefer, a parent of a Stober Elementary school student.

Lauren DiSpirito reports for CBS4 News at 10 p.m. She covers breaking news and feature stories along Colorado's Front Range. Follow her on Twitter @CBS4Lauren. Share your story ideas with her here.

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