Hazel Park district works on deficit

Oakland Schools will guide district through difficult transition

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published March 19, 2015

 Change is afoot at the Hazel Park Administration Building, where representatives from the Oakland Intermediate School District are helping to reshape Hazel Park Public Schools and solve the district’s deficit.

Change is afoot at the Hazel Park Administration Building, where representatives from the Oakland Intermediate School District are helping to reshape Hazel Park Public Schools and solve the district’s deficit.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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HAZEL PARK — Hazel Park Public Schools has taken the first steps toward a transformation that will include downsizing staff in an attempt to reduce a deficit that earlier this year was found to be much larger than anyone anticipated.


In June 2014, HPPS officials reported to the state that they estimated their deficit to be about $2.5 million. In December 2014, they began to suspect the deficit was far larger than that. In January 2015, their fears were confirmed with the revelation that the district, which also serves parts of Ferndale, is about $5.5-$6.5 million in the hole.


The Oakland Intermediate School District (OISD) has tapped Rick Repicky, former superintendent of Fraser Public Schools in Macomb County, to act as interim superintendent, tasked with formulating a Deficit Elimination Plan. He will stay onboard until this summer, when the Hazel Park Board of Education hopes to hire a permanent superintendent.


“A $2.5 million deficit is a big problem for a district this size,” Repicky said. “But $6.5 million? That’s a huge problem.”


He said that many districts are feeling pressure due to declining student enrollment and reduced state aid. But it’s especially acute in Hazel Park’s case due to the cumulative effect of what Repicky described as “a lack of attention to detail.” He said many costs gradually added up due to a number of miscalculations on the district’s part, resulting in the current deficit.


Back in 2013, the district had been making strides with a five-year Deficit Elimination Plan. The state extended it by a sixth year, ending in July 2015. The district had been in the red since FY 2006-07, when the deficit was around $191,500. At the close of FY 2012-13, it was estimated to be $3.3 million.


Still, the state treasury’s Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board decided at the time that there were no signs of “probable financial stress” in the district, since the deficit amounted to 8 percent of its total budget — safely below the 15 percent demarcation used by the Michigan Department of Education.


Officials didn’t say where that mark now falls in 2015, but with the current Deficit Elimination Plan drawing to a close, it’s clear that a new one is needed.


The board accepted the resignation of the previous superintendent, James Meisinger, at its meeting March 9, following the board’s request from OISD for help with financial and administrative matters. Meisinger had been superintendent of HPPS for the past four years and had been with the district in various positions for 38 years.


His temporary replacement, Repicky, was in retirement when OISD contacted him about lending a hand. Repicky said he was drawn to the job because he knows and respects many of the people on the team that ISD has arranged to oversee the stabilization of HPPS.


Three of the key players from OISD include Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, former superintendent of Southfield Public Schools, who will oversee the HR department, academic programs, classroom size and instructional time; Bob Moore, who Repicky describes as “one of the renowned leaders in school finance in the state of Michigan,” and who will oversee the business office and negotiate contracts; and Dr. Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of OISD, who will oversee the entire process.


Repicky said that layoffs are definitely in the cards. All bargaining units are being examined.


“The key thing is, there will be some downsizing that has to take place. But the team from Oakland Schools … are working together with great cooperation from the Hazel Park staff — all of the employees and their unions — and we’re making some really fine progress towards correcting the course, impacting the students as little as possible.”


Don Vogt, principal of Hazel Park High School, said his school has seen improved performance in recent years. He hopes the district’s situation won’t have any adverse effects.


“In the fall of 2012, we were named a priority low-performing school and filed our transformation plan with the state. Since then, our Michigan Merit Exam test scores have gone up from the fifth percentile to the 85th percentile. We’ve made tremendous strides,” Vogt said. “But now we face layoffs, and I worry that will affect our overall effectiveness here at the high school. It’s doubly biting for us, because we feel so good about the improvements we’ve made across the board. Not only academically, but behaviorally, as well — our students are having better attitudes.”


Repicky said that while the situation is daunting, everyone shares the same goal.


“Everyone in the district seems determined, and keeps at the forefront the reason this district exists is to educate the students and make them first in why we come to work every day,” Repicky said. “While this will be a painful process, by the time the dust settles, the district will be better than ever and much more sustainable moving into the future.”

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