Services provided to residents of south metro-area communities come from a variety of sources. Who renders these services depends on where you live …
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Services provided to residents of south metro-area communities
come from a variety of sources.
Who renders these services depends on where you live — and there
isn’t much of a noticeable pattern.
Highlands Ranch residents get fire protection from Littleton,
law enforcement from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and public
education from the Douglas County School District. The community
has its own parks and recreation provider.
Lone Tree has its own police department, but relies on South
Metro for fire protection and South Suburban for parks and rec.
Lone Tree — which is a municipality, unlike its much larger,
unincorporated neighbor, Highlands Ranch — also is part of the
Douglas County School District.
Centennial, the largest city in the south metro area, contracts
out for virtually everything.
Englewood, on the other hand, does it all. Littleton comes
What got me thinking about this was the recent decision by the
City of Sheridan to contract with Denver for fire protection
services, a move that should save some, if not a lot, of money.
About time, I thought. Why does a metro-area city of
approximately 5,000 people need its own fire department? Or police
department? Or school district?
Why, when Centennial, with about 102,000 residents, has none of
those things and seems to be doing just fine? Centennial residents
are served by the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, South Metro
Fire Rescue, South Suburban Parks and Recreation, and the Cherry
Creek and Littleton school districts. Public works comes from a
Maybe the time has come for more of this unconventional
thinking. Can we get by, and maybe even thrive, with fewer
agencies, districts and entities?
Let’s look at school districts.
In one small swath of western Arapahoe County, there are two
school districts, Englewood and Sheridan. Combined, the two
districts cover just 10 square miles and enroll only about 5,000
students. Neither district is known for its academic prowess.
Massive Arapahoe County is covered by seven school districts.
Three of them, including Littleton and Cherry Creek, are fairly
large. Another two, Deer Trail and Byers, are tiny, rural
districts, far removed from the population center.
The Englewood and Sheridan districts are smack in the middle of
the metro area, surrounded by larger and higher-achieving
In general, there can be much debate on whether larger districts
absorbing smaller districts saves money and improves education.
Locally, there can be debate on whether other districts in the area
would want the added enrollment or possible headaches.
I say let the debate begin.
In all, Colorado has 178 school districts. That averages out to
almost three districts for every county in the state.
Colorado has enough land area to justify many of the smaller
districts, the ones located in sparsely inhabited outposts. Those
same towns probably need their own fire departments, too.
But why small school districts are needed in urban and suburban
areas is not as clear. It can’t hurt to evaluate the viability of
districts like Sheridan or Englewood joining another, larger
district. Or simply merging together.
If it can be done in a way that keeps schools open and teachers
with jobs, while cutting some administrative and operating costs,
it should be looked at.
Douglas County — a mix of suburban and rural areas — has just
one school district. It’s one of the biggest and best in the state.
Like all school districts in Colorado, it faces money problems, but
on a larger scale than most. I can’t imagine those financial woes
would be eased if the district were divided into five smaller
entities, each with its own administrative costs.
If there is one trend in how south metro-area communities get
things done, it might be this: the way that works best for them.
Often, that means sharing an agency or district with a neighboring
Centennial is covered by the sheriff’s department, and the city
has a very low crime rate. Littleton’s parks and rec services come
from South Suburban, and people seem pretty pleased.
Sometimes the math you learn in school is wrong. Sometimes less
Chris Rotar is a news editor for Colorado Community
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