Hazel Park Public Schools hits new milestone in deficit elimination

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 4, 2019

HAZEL PARK — The Michigan Department of Treasury recently announced a new milestone in Hazel Park Public Schools reaching its deficit elimination goal. HPPS cut its deficit nearly in half between July 2015 and June 2018, from $8 million to $4.1 million. As a result, the state has agreed to relax some of its restrictions on the district.

“This is great news from the state,” said Laura Adkins, the district’s Board of Education president.

Previously, the state required that the district seek approval from the Treasury Department when decisions were made in purchases and contracts exceeding a threshold of $23,000. In addition, contracts had to be approved by the Treasury Department.

Now reporting will be limited to monthly updates on the district’s Deficit Elimination Plan, in order to show that the district is still functioning within the state’s guidelines to reduce the deficit.

“We are still required to eliminate the final $4 million,” said Amy Kruppe, HPPS superintendent. “However, it shows confidence in the district and administration to make these decisions.”

Kruppe said that the progress was accomplished by the HPPS Board of Education working in cooperation with Oakland Intermediate Schools, and concessions from staff starting in the 2014-15 school year that included pay reductions and layoffs.

Kruppe arrived in the district after the deficit had already been identified.

“It is clear that the steep decline in students, along with a significant reduction in per-pupil allocations from the state, (factored into) the deficit,” Kruppe said. “In Michigan, a significant amount of your funding is per-pupil allocation from the state. In the years where there was a large loss in students and the state’s per-pupil allocation, there were not enough reductions in staff (to balance it). Hazel Park is not alone in these challenges, either: Current struggles in adequate school funding is a constant conversation in schools across the state.”  

Adkins noted that she started her first term on the board in January 2015.

“The deficit was uncovered right before I took office,” Adkins said. “I would agree with the factors Amy mentioned. The fluctuating enrollment and per-pupil funding was, and continues to be, very challenging to manage.”

The school board worked with each union and Oakland Intermediate Schools to find ways to reduce the deficit. Oakland Intermediate Schools assumed control of the business office until this past December, when the district hired its own staff again.

All staff before 2015 took cuts, and additional compensation cuts in 2015. This included staff development, coaching and general salary cuts. Secretaries and other staff members lost vacation days.

“The salary and other compensation can only return depending upon what happens in Lansing based on our student count and our per-pupil allocation,” Kruppe said. “Each year, we wait to hear the allocations to the district and determine what raises we can afford given our best projects for students and the budget.”

The cuts also included a reduction in teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as outsourcing the lunch program, sharing the transportation supervisor with another school district, scaling back child care services and maintenance staff, downsizing the administrative team and more.

“Throughout the last several years, while some programs have returned, other cost-saving changes have occurred in order to prioritize K-12 education. These have included, unfortunately, the loss of adult education and the preschool program for 3- to 4-year-olds,” Kruppe said. “However, we’ve been able to increase AP classes, STEAM programs, and give back some salary dollars.

“This will continue to be a work in progress,” she added. “The district needs to balance the financial recovery with the programatic needs and teacher retention.”

Adkins said the reductions were tough but necessary.

“The only way to get the deficit under control was for there to be cuts across the board and to look for savings anywhere possible. There was no job or program that was safe from cost cutting,” Adkins said. “I was really proud of how the school district employees were willing to take cuts so that the school district would survive and avoid the appointment of an emergency manager.”

Eliminating the remaining $4 million will take careful work, trying to find additional savings wherever possible, and in a way where any impact to the students and staff will be minimal.

In the meantime, school officials are celebrating the news from the Treasury Department, as well as other positive developments in the district.

“We are thrilled with the continual reduction of the deficit,” Kruppe said. “The Hazel Park Promise Zone also increased the number of scholarships last year to $3.6 million. The advantage that Hazel Park residents have received from this great opportunity has been amazing.

“Hazel Park has also been able to bring back Advanced Placement classes, as well as add Project Lead the Way programs for robotics,” she said. “In addition, we have developed Legos teams at the elementary level, and robotics teams at the high school and middle school.”

Added Adkins: “Our teachers and staff work so hard, and we are so thankful for the sacrifices that they have made.”