(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 18, 2013)
In an effort to offset debt and declining enrollment, the Hazel Park School District has opened up enrollment to neighboring counties and made plans to close one of the elementary schools.
ENROLLMENT EXPANDED TO WAYNE AND MACOMB COUNTIES
The measures, approved by the Board on October 21, are beginning to take effect. “If you live in Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb County and are interested in exciting learning opportunities for your children, you have come to the right place,” says the District’s website (http://www.hazelpark.k12.mi.us/). The District’s boundaries include all of Hazel Park plus an eastern section of Ferndale.
Superintendent James Meisinger presented the plan to increase enrollment, noting that the district lost about 500 last year, and 300 more this year. Currently there are about 4,000 students enrolled.
The District previously opened up enrolment to fifth graders from other communities, which gained them 45 students from Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park and Warren. The new measure welcomes students in all grades. Students are screened to see if they have been expelled, suspended or have special education needs. Meisigner said that if the District enrolls a problematic student, the student could be transferred to one of the alternative education programs.
Trustee Ryan Cook supported the idea, stating his belief that all children have the right to a quality education regardless of where they lived. Trustee Rose Mary Hammonds, who attended a meeting with the Michigan Department of Education in May, said that if the district did not balance the budget they could be faced with having an Emergency Manager.
Board Secretary Charles Hemple and Board Trustee Sue Hemple cast the dissenting votes in expanding enrollment areas. According to the meeting minutes, Mrs. Hemple said that she’d like to see families of students sending their kids to the district help pay for the outstanding bonds. While the school district is not able to charge such fees, each pupil does some with about $7,000 in funding from the state.
CLOSING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
The Board also approved the closure of one elementary school building, though there has not yet been a decision as to which one. Meisinger and his administration are reviewing which building would make the most sense.
The study will include how the remaining three elementary buildings will be structured. Traditionally the schools have held grades K-5, though the idea of having each building house only certain grades is being considered. If that happens, the start times would be staggered so parents with children in different grades can have time to drop students off.
In terms of which school will be closed, Meisinger said “We’re still in the process of working on that situation,” and that he anticipates making the announcement at the Jan. 20, 2014 meeting.
FINANCIAL SHORTFALLS FACED
Hazel Park Schools was in discussion over the past year because of their financial position. The deficit grew from approximately $1.5 million to about $3.3 million, but they have managed to keep up with vendor and pension fund payments. Meisinger said that while the district did submit a Deficit Elimination Plan to the State, which will be reviewed in 2014, the plan would still be about $2 million short of budget.
At the October School Board meeting, Director of Curriculum Michael Barlow explained how the district acted quickly to stabilize the finances. He stated that 25 teachers took the severance incentive, six teachers were laid off, and two teachers resigned. However, the District did have to hire teachers with specialized certifications in the special education area, to fill the positions of special education teachers that retired/resigned. There were also cuts in secretarial, custodian, cafeteria and transportation departments. The District is also negotiating pay cuts with the unions, with administration stating they will take a 4% cut if the other departments do as well.
These changes have reduced the DEP deficit by about $1 million, to about $1 million, with the hopes that closing a building and increasing enrollment will make up the rest.
The district has made improvements due to a recent bond, including a new football field and track. The district also has a Promise Zone program to assist graduates with money for college.
To learn more about Hazel Park Schools visit http://www.hazelpark.k12.mi.us.