Community members listen to Grosse Pointe Public School System Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Educational Services Jon Dean talk about the reconfiguration process during a town hall meeting May 9 at Maire Elementary School in Grosse Pointe City.

Community members listen to Grosse Pointe Public School System Deputy Superintendent for Human Resources and Educational Services Jon Dean talk about the reconfiguration process during a town hall meeting May 9 at Maire Elementary School in Grosse Pointe City.

Photo by Maria Allard


Town hall meetings on district reconfiguration process continue

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 14, 2019

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Next month, the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a reconfiguration process that is designed to cut expenses as the district deals with declining enrollment and what school officials call a lack of funding from the state of Michigan.

The reconfiguration plan could include the closing of certain elementary schools, which is not sitting well with many community members.

Several months ago, the school board asked the administration to consider a district reconfiguration plan. Because of a steady decrease in student enrollment over the years, not all school buildings are being used to their capacities, which is costing the district money.

Public schools in Michigan receive a per-pupil allowance from the state based on enrollment. When enrollment declines, districts receive less money from the state. This may result in districts finding ways to reduce expenses, such as cutting staff, programs or closing buildings.

According to reconfiguration documents, Grosse Pointe’s enrollment was more than 11,000 students during the 1975-76 school year, while enrollment projections for the 2021-22 school year are just over 7,000.

As a result, the school board is considering the closing of schools. This past winter and spring, a Blue Ribbon Committee, or BRC, comprising school officials, parents, staff and community members without children in the schools met on a regular basis.

The BRC was given the task of proposing a reconfiguration plan for facility usage and grade configuration to be implemented in the district no earlier than the 2020-21 school year. The school board is scheduled to vote on the reconfiguration plan in June. An exact date was still pending at press time.

While coming up with a plan, the BRC said that it kept in mind the possible impact it would have on the community, the potential  financial savings to the district, increased educational opportunities, and building capacity.

The district currently has nine elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools, one early childhood center and one administration building, known as 389 in the plan because it is located at 389 St. Clair Ave. in Grosse Pointe City. The grade configurations are K-five; six-eight; and nine-12, but those could change if a new district concept is adopted.

 


The Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations
The BRC came up with a report that includes four different scenarios to close two elementary schools and relocate those students to other schools.

Scenario No. 1 is to adopt a K-4, five-eight and nine-12 grade configuration while closing Trombly Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park and Mason Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Woods. According to the BRC, the move would save the district $1,348,340 and $9,503,690 in bond savings. The land value on the report was listed as $4,142,800.

Scenario No. 2 is to adopt a K-4, five-eight and nine-12 grade configuration while closing Trombly and Poupard Elementary School in Harper Woods. According to the BRC, the move would save the district $1,098,340 and $11,114,333 in bond savings. The land value was listed as $3,954,200.

Scenario No. 3 is to adopt a K-4, five-eight and nine-12 grade configuration while closing Maire Elementary School in Grosse Pointe City and Mason. According to the BRC, the move would save the district $1,348,340 and $10,530,830 in bond savings. The land value was listed as $4,106,000.

Scenario No. 4 is to adopt a K-4, five-eight and nine-12 grade configuration while closing Maire and Poupard. According to the BRC, the move would save the district $1,098,340 and $12,141,473 in bond savings. The land value was listed as $3,917,400.

All four scenarios list closing the Pierce Middle School pool and the 389 building; the expansion of early childhood education opportunities at the Barnes Early Childhood Center in Grosse Pointe Woods; and possibly moving administrative services to Grosse Pointe North High School in Grosse Pointe Woods.

The bond savings stem from savings that could occur from the district’s $111,040,000 bond referendum that passed Nov. 6. The bond issue raises taxes among GPPSS residents to pay for building improvements throughout the district.

The board majority could vote to support one of the four scenarios or turn them all down.

At the May 9 town hall at Maire, district Superintendent Gary Niehaus and Jon Dean, district deputy superintendent for human resources and educational services, answered questions from those in attendance who wrote down inquiries on index cards. Questions arose about several topics, including taxes and the bond.

“Taxes are assessed on a districtwide basis for schools, not a city,” Dean said, who also told the crowd that bond money can’t be used for operational costs.

By law, school districts must balance their budgets. If Grosse Pointe does not cut expenses for next year, the district could go into deficit.

Staff positions at the closing schools would be cut, but “that doesn’t mean people are getting laid off,” Dean said. Staff would relocate to other schools.

 


‘I have faith in our board, administration and community’
BRC member and parent Mary Howlett, who has a first grader and a fourth grader at Maire and a sixth grader at Pierce, attended the Maire meeting. While she does not want to see Maire close, “because we love it,” she said she understands the need for saving money.

“I do trust that our administration and our board are working exceptionally hard to make the best decision they can,” Howlett said. “Everyone cares deeply. Everyone has the kids’ best interest in mind. There’s not one right way to do this. I have faith in our board, administration and community. If the community can respond to the change in a positive way, that will lead us in the direction we want to go.”

As the talk of school closures circulates, families at Mason, Maire, Poupard and Trombly are voicing their concerns about how that will affect the community and home values.

Maire is a Blue Ribbon School. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools where students achieve high learning standards or make notable improvements in closing the achievement gap. In recognition of its Blue Ribbon status, Maire families have been tying blue ribbons around trees in the school’s vicinity.

On May 17, the Trombly community — in an effort to have its voices heard — will gather at 7:30 a.m. in front of the Tompkins Center at Windmill Pointe Park, 14920 Windmill Pointe Drive in Grosse Pointe Park. From there, the group will walk to Defer Elementary School in Grosse Pointe Park. The exercise is to show school officials what walking to school is like during rush hour traffic if the Trombly students have to walk to Defer under the reconfiguration.

News of the possible school closings has been ever-present on social media, including Facebook. One event posted on Facebook is the “Ferry, Mason, Monteith & Poupard Playdate!” scheduled for 2-4 p.m. May 18 at Ghesquiere Park, 19955 Mack Ave. in Grosse Pointe Woods. Closing Ferry and Monteith elementary schools is not part of the reconfiguration process.

“Please join us in building community bonding between Ferry, Mason, Monteith & Poupard students regardless of our current reconfiguration talks and the BOE vote in June,” the Facebook page states. “Let’s start working together now! We welcome you to bring your current students and their siblings.”

On May 8, the City of Grosse Pointe City Council submitted a letter to the GPPSS Board of Education on the possible closing of Maire. According to the letter, all seven council members are united in “opposition to the closure” of Maire.

“Closing Maire would create a hole in the center of the district that would reverberate throughout the community,” the letter states. “It is not an accident that Maire School is a success. It has a long culture of support and togetherness. It has all the characteristics of an exemplary school; effective administrators, a cadre of dedicated teachers, a rich history of exceptional parental support.

“To lose Maire would be a strike to the heart of the community around The Village,” the letter continues. “The Village is the core of the One Grosse Pointe community, is located on a major corridor entering Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park, and is close to Mack Avenue. … For more than 80 years, Maire School has been integral to this walkable business and residential district.”

Throughout April and May, GPPSS officials have held a number of town halls meetings to discuss the reconfiguration plan at each of the district’s buildings. There are three meetings left, and community members are encouraged to attend. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. The remaining meetings are:

• May 16, Defer Elementary gym
• May 21, Pierce Middle School auditorium
• May 22, Barnes Early Childhood Center gym