Progress being made on deficit elimination at Hazel Park schools

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 24, 2019

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HAZEL PARK — Officials for Hazel Park Public Schools recently announced that the district has hit another milestone on the road to eliminating its deficit. 

The deficit will be $800,000 by the close of the current school year, ending June 2019. This is down from a deficit of $4.2 million at this time last year. And by this time next year, the deficit is projected to be eliminated entirely, and the district will have a fund balance of $800,000.

The announcement was made June 17. 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 a range of cuts to faculty and staff.

On the note of cuts, there is some news as well: For the 2019-20 school year, the district was able to give 3 percent raises to staff and restore some benefits. 

“Each year, we have been working to restore salaries as we could, and look forward to continuing this practice within appropriate financial boundaries,” said Amy Kruppe, the superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools. “This has been done with the unions as appropriate, and then with the Board of Education.” 

These recent 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 more 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 December, when the district hired its own staff again.

“We have been extremely vigilant as we have controlled costs,” Kruppe said. “When positions are added, we have reflected on each and every position and dollar spent. This has included supplies, materials, raises and repairs. Progress has been made in many areas, but we have made intentional conversation around every step that we take.

“During this year, we have a population bubble that went through the district. We adjusted our staff to reflect this ahead of time,” she added. “This reduction of the deficit has not been easy, and (progress has occurred) because of each and every staff member and their dedication to Hazel Park.”  

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 some salary dollars. 

“I do not believe we will be able to restore adult education, but we would hope that we would be able to ask the board to consider a 3-year-old program in the future. We know how valuable this is for our students,” Kruppe said. “We also cut some administrative positions and tutoring. We would hope to add the after-school tutoring at the high school. … Each year we have to consider what our students’ needs are with the dollars we have. We will need to be vigilant with our taxpayer dollars, since we do not want this to happen again in Hazel Park.”

Kruppe said that part of the problem is beyond the district’s control.

“Michigan is not funding its schools properly, and this has to change,” Kruppe said. “We know that in Michigan, our funding increases have been some of the lowest across the country. This makes it more difficult for districts to be financially solvent.” 

Jason Zirnis, the assistant superintendent of business and operations, said that he has been impressed by the district’s sense of community since he joined last fall. He said that the district owes its success to the staff, students and community members who sacrificed to make it happen.

“The district has worked hard with its partner organizations, and the results of their efforts are telling,” Zirnis said. “I’m proud to be able to contribute to an institution that places the needs of a diverse and unique student population above all else.”

Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.