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FPS coffee hour pores over what parents want to see in district

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 3, 2016

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FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Public Schools Superintendent George Heitsch met with about 20 parents, volunteers and community members to discuss the current issues — and future changes — facing the school district during a coffee hour Jan. 22 at the Administration Building.

Heitsch discussed with the group how the school district might have less revenue next year and more than likely 350 fewer students.

From redistricting and reducing staff by 200 members — including roughly 100 teachers — to changing semester scheduling and more, FPS has seen a number of changes, and there are more to come. At a Jan. 26 Board of Education meeting, trustees unanimously voted to have the school district seek requests for proposals for transportation and custodial services. The efforts are to keep FPS afloat after a projected $1.5 million shortfall for 2015-16.

A union official could not be reached for comment by press time.

A number of attendees at the coffee hour voiced their opinions against privatizing, specifically custodial services, citing safety risks and a lack of community togetherness.

Heitsch said the decision to privatize custodial staff may not be popular, but it is needed.

“It’s not anything any of us want to do, but an economic necessity,” he said.

One attendee said that if the district privatizes, a number of people are out of a job and can’t afford to live within the school district boundaries, reducing the tax base.

Heitsch said the school district is in a “limited-resource position.”

One parent asked if changes in potential school closings would affect her children heading into ninth and first grades.

Heitsch said there is an anxiety about elementary school changes that are not “happening at all.”

He added that he doesn’t anticipate the student-teacher ratio going up for elementary school students.

“Class sizes are going to be phenomenal,” he said.

Another parent asked if schools will be “packed” with students after potential school closings.

Heitsch said students will be put in available classrooms, and the current schools were built for significantly more students.

“Space that we have taken we’ve turned classrooms into computer labs,” Heitsch said. “What would have been student space 20 years ago is now other space.”

One parent brought up a lack of media specialists in the school district, and Heitsch said it was a competing value with the district’s budget.

He said elementary school principals have told district officials that they need a little more help bridging the gap for their students, and the school district is trying to figure out where to find the balance.

A number of parents suggested that Heitsch tap into community resources — namely, parents — and use them as volunteers, because some are retired teachers.

Others brought up looking into later start times for middle school and high school students.

Heitsch mentioned the possibility of 30- to 45-minute later start times, which the school district would “figure out how to make” work.

Farmington resident LaVonda Ramey, whose three children have been in the school district since the 1990s, said she was “very pleased” that school start times are being discussed, because later start times would help students be better prepared.

“I have been very passionate about that,” she said after the coffee hour. “I served on the Late Start Committee. I’ve had three children go through the district, and every single one of them have started with early start times.”

She added that she was surprised by the cuts in media specialists and in other areas. 

“That really worries me because there are children who desperately need that and ... maybe retired teachers … could really fill that role on a volunteer basis,” Ramey said. 

Heitsch said after the event that the coffee hour went very well, with good feedback and good questions.

“I hope they got information. I hope they got a sense of direction, maybe that there is some finality coming at some point to all these decisions,” he said. “I’m grateful they came and this many people care about the community.”

The next coffee hour will be held 2-3 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Lewis Schulman Administration Building, 32500 Shiawassee Road in Farmington. 

Additional coffee hours will be held throughout the school year.

No reservations are required. For more information, call (248) 489-3349.