Committee further explores school district reconfiguration options

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 23, 2019

GROSSE POINTES — The Blue Ribbon Committee, or BRC, that assembled earlier this year to discuss the Grosse Pointe Public School System reconfiguration plan held its most recent meeting April 16.

At the meeting — which was open to the public and was held inside the Brownell Middle School multipurpose room in Grosse Pointe Farms — the committee members met in groups to further discuss grade level configuration options within the plan.

The BRC consists of parents, teachers, support staff, administrators and community members who do not have children in the schools. Michael Wilmot, former president and CEO of Michigan Leadership Group, served as the facilitator of the meeting.

The district currently has nine elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, one early childhood center and one administration building, known as “389” because it is located at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City. The district’s grade configurations are K-5; six-eight; and nine-12, but those could change if a new district concept were adopted.

School officials are considering reconfiguring the district due to declining enrollment over the past several years. Because of the drop in enrollment, the reconfiguration plan is expected to include the closing of school buildings in an effort to cut expenses.

Which buildings and how many buildings will close are still to be determined, although there has been strong support to close the district’s administration building. According to district Superintendent Gary Niehaus, the administrative building is going to a request for proposal soon.

“Once it does, then the determination of what will happen will be discussed by the Board of Education,” Niehaus said in an email. “The zoning is residential now. The repurposing would need the City of Grosse Pointe Planning Commission and City Council approval. Then the Board of Education would have a chance to accept an offer.”

Public schools across the state receive a per-pupil allowance from the state. When enrollment declines, districts receive less money from the state and often have to find ways to reduce expenses. The district’s per-pupil foundation allowance for the 2018-19 school year is $10,104 per pupil.  

The BRC was given the task of proposing a reconfiguration plan for facility usage and grade configuration to be implemented in the district no earlier than the 2020-21 school year. The school board is scheduled to vote on the reconfiguration plan in June.

While coming up with a reconfiguration plan, the BRC members must keep in mind what impact it will have on the community, what the financial savings to the district would be, what increased educational opportunities it could provide, and building capacity.

At its April 11 meeting, the BRC gave a PowerPoint presentation that included a five-year enrollment projection from 2018 to 2023. The enrollment projection came from Plante Moran Cresa, and also from a Middle Cities Education Association, or MCEA, study. According to the PowerPoint presentation, there were 7,212 students in GPPSS in 2018. Plante Moran Cresa predicts the district to have 6,689 students in 2023. Middle Cities projects the district to have 6,563 students in 2023.

In the spring of 2017, Plante Moran Cresa was engaged by the school board to review building needs and to provide a needs list based on the district’s guidelines; to provide a five-year pupil enrollment projection; and to provide a 10-year capital plan for GPPSS.

The MCEA describes itself on its website as “a consortium of urban school districts which was formed out of a shared commitment to improving educational opportunities for the urban learner.”

The BRC members have met several times to discuss various aspects of the reconfiguration plan. At the April 16 meeting, the BRC took a survey among the group regarding grade level configuration.

A review of the BRC presentation was scheduled to be shared at the April 22 school board meeting. From there, the Board of Education will give district administrators a reconfiguration plan to take to the town hall meetings that are scheduled over the next several weeks.


Questions along the way
In November 2018, a $111 million bond issue passed by a majority vote. The bond will provide funding for safety and security improvements, building enhancements and technological updates.

The bond issue taxes residents within the district’s boundaries. There are residents in the district who question why the district went forward with the $111 million bond referendum if there was the possibility of school buildings closing.

Grosse Pointe Woods resident Monica Palmer is curious to know that if there are school closures, will the entire $111 million be spent on the remaining buildings, or will it be reduced to adequately fund the remaining buildings. Another concern for Palmer is what will happen to real estate values in the community if schools are closed.

“For those of us who have attended or followed the meetings of the Grosse Pointe BOE (Board of Education) and the BRC, there are so many unanswered questions that need answering before we move forward with the bond spending,” Palmer said in an email.

“There is more that we don’t know than what we do know. Taxpayers have not been presented with a documented plan for spending of the approved $111 million  bond with the adjustments required by the triggering of enrollment levels,” Palmer said. “Spending of the bond money should be postponed until an approved plan is in place. Until a comprehensive plan is in place, the Administration should not pursue spending any of the bond money.”

According to Niehaus, Grosse Pointe South High School will have bond construction in 2020, and Grosse Pointe North High School will have it in 2021.

“No other schools are scheduled until the reconfiguration plan has been approved,” Niehaus said.

Grosse Pointe Farms resident and parent Geoff Horst feels educators are passionate about making the best possible decision for the students. However, he believes the Plante Moran Cresa enrollment model is fundamentally flawed for projecting more than a couple of years out due to the fact that it uses countywide population growth data.  

“For small communities like Grosse Pointe and Bloomfield Hills, we all know our communities are nothing like the rest of Wayne or Oakland counties, and the lack of taking community-level data, not the Neilson consumer data, into account leads to wildly inaccurate forecasting even at five years out,” he said.

“Projections are professional best guesses. Plante Moran Cresa and Middle Cities are primarily figured on live births in Wayne County,” Niehaus said. “We have to use ... enrollment projection metrics to predict the future enrollment. We have used Plante Moran Cresa for three years and will continue to monitor their success.”

Horst also is concerned that the district could lose students and families because of school closings, and about the impact that could have on homeowners. Something else to consider, Horst said, is the possible loss of the district’s neighborhood feel and community culture.

 


Grosse Pointe Public School System officials will hold a number of town hall meetings to discuss the district’s reconfiguration plan. Community members are encouraged to attend. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. Here is the schedule:

• April 25, Kerby Elementary gym.
• April 29, Mason Elementary gym.
• April 30, Grosse Pointe South High School auditorium.
• May 1, Richard Elementary gym.
• May 2, Ferry Elementary gym.
• May 6, Parcells Middle School auditorium.
• May 7, Brownell Middle School multipurpose room.
• May 8, Monteith Elementary gym.
• May 9, Maire Elementary gym.
• May 14, Trombly Elementary gym.
• May 15, Poupard Elementary gym.
• May 16, Defer Elementary gym.
• May 21, Pierce Middle School auditorium.
• May 22, Barnes Early Childhood Center gym.