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 Hazel Park Public Schools recently announced its on track to eliminate its 15-year deficit by this summer.

Hazel Park Public Schools recently announced its on track to eliminate its 15-year deficit by this summer.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

HPPS on track to eliminate deficit by JUNE 2020

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published October 25, 2019


HAZEL PARK — Officials in Hazel Park Public Schools are feeling more confident than ever that they will have entirely eliminated the district’s 15-year-long deficit by June 2020, with the five-year deficit elimination plan right on schedule.

An auditor’s report by Plante Moran shows that the district has reduced its deficit from $4.1 million in July 2018 to $606,000, a trend that if continued will see the district debt-free by summer.   

The administration’s confidence is further bolstered by such developments as the state budget providing a $218 foundation allowance increase; reduced cash flow borrowing from the state from $11.9 million to $5 million that reduces the district’s debt-carrying costs significantly; and ongoing evaluation of district suppliers and practices that continue to control costs and yield savings.

“Hazel Park employees have made significant sacrifices to create the positive financial outlook we are experiencing,” said Jason Zirnis, assistant superintendent of business and operations for Hazel Park Public Schools. “A district does not achieve what Hazel Park has done without sacrifice and dedication of the community, staff and students.”

In June, the district announced that the deficit was around $800,000, a number that was then revised to $606,000 with the final budget in July. Now the deficit is projected to be eliminated entirely by June 2020, and with a fund balance of $1 million, to boot.

To put into perspective how far the district has come, the original deficit in the 2014-15 school year was estimated to be between $8 million and $11 million. The current progress is in line with the time frame set forth by the administration of the prior superintendent, who worked with the Hazel Park Board of Education and Oakland Intermediate Schools to implement cuts to faculty and staff. And on the note of cuts, the district was able to give 3% raises to staff and restore some benefits this year.

These developments follow another breakthrough late last year, when the Michigan Department of Treasury confirmed that the district had reached a deficit elimination goal, cutting its deficit nearly in half between July 2015 and June 2018. As a result, the state agreed to relax some of the restrictions that had been placed upon the district.

Previously, the state had 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. Since the restrictions have been relaxed, reporting has been 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. The district’s increased autonomy has allowed it to make purchases and other decisions more efficiently.

The progress was accomplished by the HPPS Board of Education working in cooperation with Oakland Intermediate Schools, and concessions from staff that included pay reductions and layoffs. All staff before 2015 took cuts, and took additional compensation cuts in 2015. This included staff development, coaching and salary cuts. Secretaries and other staff members lost vacation days.

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

The current superintendent joined the district after the deficit was identified. The cause of the deficit appears to have been a steep decline in student enrollment, along with a significant reduction in per-pupil allocations from the state.

In working together to reduce the deficit, Oakland Intermediate Schools had assumed control of the business office until this past November, when the district hired its own staff again.

And while some programs have been restored in recent years, other cost-saving changes have continued to occur in order to prioritize the district’s K-12 education offerings, including the loss of adult education and the preschool program for 3- to 4-year-olds. However, the district has been able to increase Advanced Placement courses and STEAM programs, and restore a significant portion of the salary cuts that were made.

Amy Kruppe, the superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools, highlighted other promising developments in the district, such as more than 85 students taking Advanced Placement tests in the last two years compared to 45 in 2015 and 2016. In addition, the district is currently reviewing the curriculum and updating its math offerings in K-5, with English planned next.

“Hazel Park is a great place to work and see students thrive,” Kruppe said. “The district is proud of the amazing work that the students are doing.”