Ferndale Schools Tackling Challenges with Discussions on Restructuring
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 28, 2015)
You could take every single resident student in the Ferndale School District, and move them to the High School/Middle School, close all the other buildings, and still have room left over.
While that is not an option that the district would consider, it is an image that shows the stark reality that the Ferndale Schools community is facing. At a forum on Tuesday school officials and advisers went through data showing where the district is and what options it has moving forward.
According to the presentation, Ferndale Schools is the largest owner of land in the district boundaries (which include part of Ferndale, part of Oak Park, Royal Oak Township and Pleasant Ridge), yet the buildings are only being used at roughly 50% of capacity. On top of it, many of the buildings were constructed in the 1920s and have serious maintenance issues. And on top of that the district is facing the same systematic problems many in Michigan are – declining population, and declining education funding.
Because of these problems, Ferndale Schools has begun exploring restructuring, with Superintendent Blake Prewitt repeatedly telling members of the audience that the forum is just the beginning of that process, and stressing the need for public discourse with a focus on achievement for all students.
Deciding where to put the 3,000 students is a complicated issue, based not only on physical location, but on what kind of learning environment is best for the students. “Education is not bricks and mortar, education is about people,” Prewitt said.
From a bricks and mortar perspective though, the district has property that needs work. Overall this cost would be $7,383,218. Antiquated boilers are expensive to replace. Some of the buildings need major roof repairs, and in some buildings the brick is coming apart from the walls which is both unsightly and hazardous.
The ages of the buildings correlate with the amount of work the buildings would need to remain useful:
Roosevelt (K-3), 1921
Jefferson (Adult and Alt. Ed), 1925
University High School, 1924
Grant (Early Education), 1926
Taft (currently not used), 1928
Kennedy (K-6), 1956
Jackson/Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts (CASA), 1960
Coolidge (4-6), 1996
The High School and Middle School are being repaired by bond funds and were not part of the discussion of repairs and restructuring.
Recommendations based on expense call for keeping Coolidge, Kennedy and Taft. Keeping Jackson/CASA is also a recommendation because each district that sends students to CASA have renewed an agreement that calls upon them to stay for five years and to contribute toward the costs of building needs.
The restructuring will take into account more than just age and expense. Ferndale Schools is also looking at strengths and weaknesses in terms of student achievement.
The elementary school programs are an area of much debate in the district. Currently Ferndale Schools has two elementary school programs.
Kennedy has an open classroom program for K-6 that necessitates a high level of parent involvement. The program is popular and has required a lottery to get in. In this school only 25% of the students are economically disadvantaged, and their test scores are in the 60th percentile.
Roosevelt has K-3 classes. There 65% of the students are economically disadvantaged, but still score in the 60th percentile. Some classes are open classroom while others are a more traditional brain-based curriculum.
Coolidge has 4-6 classes. There 60% of the students are economically disadvantaged and they score only in the 20th percentile. Here too the program is mainly traditional, with some open school format.
As discussed in the strategic planning process, the lottery system has long been contentious in the district, both because of the lottery system itself and the economic stratification. Parents at Kennedy tend to be happy with the system, while parents at Coolidge feel shortchanged.
Because of building under-utilization and program concerns, the administration is looking at three options for K-6 reconfiguration. They are also open to other suggestions.
Option 1 is not to change anything. This, they say, will take the district into deficit and will result in fewer resources for students, and does not address the inequity in the current structure.
Option 2 is to create a K-5 model with two schools. School one would be a Constructivist School (an updated open classroom concept) and School two would be a 21st Century International School model (more traditional program but with an emphasis on world-class education). Students could have access to either program but siblings would attend the same school. There would only be a lottery system if either program filled to capacity. Moving sixth grade to the middle school will make more room for enrollment in either school. The advantage to this would be that there would still be a choice of programs, and it would be more accessible. The disadvantage would be duplication of services at two schools instead of one, and less of a cost savings to the district.
Option 3 is to create one elementary school with a lower school (K-2 or PreK-1) and an upper school (3-5 or 2-5). This would give consistent practices for all Ferndale students, opportunities for world languages to be offered as well as STEM options for all upper elementary students. This, they say, will create a more seamless transition into middle school and a more consistent education for all. It will also be the most effective economically. It could, however, be a deterrent to those who prefer the open classroom model.
Apart from whichever option is chosen, Ferndale Schools is creating a Volunteer Board to encourage and coordinate volunteerism throughout the district. “We know that parent involvement is a strong component of the open classroom model. We want to encourage that throughout the entire district,” said Bill Good, Communications Director for the district.
If the elementary schools are consolidated, whichever building becomes available could be sold, which would also be an economic plus for the District. Roosevelt School, located in Pleasant Ridge, has the most damage of the three elementary schools. The roof and boiler need to be replaced, and there are spaces that cannot be used for classrooms because they do not meet the requirement of having two methods of egress. Windows in the building are separating at the seams, allowing water to come in and damage the walls. If this building were sold it could bring money into the district, and the land could be redeveloped into new homes which would also bring more tax revenue to the city.
UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL
The District remains committed to the University High School Program. One option being considered is moving UHS to Coolidge. This would keep the school close to a bus route and put it in a newer building with less maintenance issues. The other option is to keep it the same.
ADULT ED/ALT ED/CAREER CENTER
Option 1 is to move three programs into Taft School, where most recently the Digital Learning Center was housed. The DLC was a program that former administration had hoped would be profitable for the district in that it could bring in new students to the district who would cost less to educate than the amount of per pupil funding they would receive, generating income that could be used for other parts of the budget. This plan failed because enrollment numbers fell short of expectations. Other problems included problems with crime and violence at the school, and the long term problem of not knowing if the state will continue to fund digital schools, which are a fairly new and experimental concept.
Making the DLC program more manageable in scope gives Ferndale Schools the opportunity to improve the success of those students. Being realistic about the size means that it can fit in a building with other programs.
The configuration being proposed is to make the Ferndale Career Center (currently in its own leased space at 9 Mile and Hilton) on the main floor, Adult Education (currently at Jefferson) on the upper level, and DLC/Alternative Education (currently at Jefferson) at the lower level. This option would save the District $200,00 a year. However there would be a cost of $500,000 spread over five years to maintain the Taft building.
Option 2 would be to sell Taft and have those programs be in leased spaces. The advantage would be that spaces could be found to meet the needs of the program as it grows or shrinks in future years, and the profit from the building sale could be used to fix up other buildings in the district.
Option 3 would be to move Adult Ed to Grant and find lease space for Alternative Ed. This also allows for sale of Taft. If Grant is taken over by Royal Oak Township, they would be responsible for improvements and Ferndale Schools could lease the space from them.
Option 1 would be to Relocate all preschool to Harding. This would save the annual cost of operating Grant ($170,000 per year) and the needed capital cost ($1.3 million) to repair the building. Harding is a newer building with less issues. The district could consider busing if that would be necessary for maintaining and attracting families to the program. It also would allow for year-round services and expanding preschool programs to make it more comparable to nearby preschool options, and easier access to freeways for parents.
Option 2 would be to close Harding and move preschool to elementary buildings. This would save $140,000 a year in operational expenses but would still leave the district with $1.3 million in capital expenses at Grant.
Option 3 would be to relocate all preschool to a preK-1 building. This would save district $300,000 in operational costs of Grant and Harding and would allow for expanded programming and the ability to provide busing.
The School District plans to implement restructuring in phases, with some immediate changes and others through 2017.
1 – Move the central administrative offices out of Harding to Ferndale High School
2 – Close Jefferson
3 – Decide what to do with Grant
4 – Decide elementary schools configuration
5 – Decide location of UHS, Adult Ed. and Alt. Ed
1- Move 6th grade to Ferndale Middle School
2- Implement elementary school configuration
3 – Move UHS if desired
Ferndale Schools is just beginning these discussions, and has set up a framework for very public dialogue and input. The district’s website will have information, and there is a “Talk to Us” function where people can submit questions or comments, anonymously if they prefer. This can be found at https://mycommunityconnect.typeform.com/to/dKDFpw.
There will be a forum to discuss the elementary school configuration on Feb. 25 at Ferndale High School. The will be one at 9am and one at 7pm.
There will be a general community forum on March 9, with more details to be announced, and a School Board study session on March 12 which will also be open to the public.
The presentation also shared insightful information about state funding, comparisons with other districts by achievement and spending, and more about what goals are for the district. It also talked about how other districts are also closing buildings and restructuring due to decreases in population. Across the State of Michigan last year, for example, there are 80,000 less students than the year before that. Combined with state funding issues, it’s clear that what Ferndale is facing is similar to what many districts are going through.
The full presentation will soon be available on You Tube and the presentation documents will also be made available online. This story will be updated when those are available. More information can also be found at www.ferndaleschools.org.
Ferndale Schools Tackling Challenges with Discussions on Restructuring