GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As enrollment rates continue to drop at Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), the district is now considering a restructuring plan that could include closing and consolidating some schools.
On Monday, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education met for a special work session begin work on a plan to optimize its operations in response to the declining enrollment.
The most recent enrollment data from 2020 shows 14,314 students enrolled in the district, a 26% decrease from the 19,364 enrolled students in 2008.
That lower enrollment has pushed building utilization in the district to approximately 53%, which is significantly less than the 85% recommended by the state.
Through a facility demand summary conducted by a consulting firm the district estimates that of their 42 facilities, only 21 are considered being essential to operations based on enrollment and capacity levels.
During the meeting, GRPS leaders discussed possible actions they could take to make all schools in the district viable options across the district. In addition, they want the process to be transparent, while also building a culture of collaboration with the district's stakeholders.
The district is calling this their "Facilities Master Plan," which will start to take form after planned town hall meetings with the community later this fall.
Among the actions initially discussed during the meeting was the possibility of consolidating staff and students into fewer facilities so they can increase utilization of those buildings.
"It's not about cutting, and closing. We are not cutting and closing to prosperity. We are looking at what are some opportunities to take our facilities and how to manage them better for the future," said Leadriane Roby, Superintendent of GRPS.
The reduction in facilities in the district would free up money that was used for upkeep and operation and allow it to be used to renovate and improve other facilities. The additional resources could also be used for investing in the community in other ways.
GRPS leadership is considering many different options that may include closing schools, consolidating schools, creating greenspace at underused facilities, converting schools to community centers, or even converting them into affordable housing.
The goal of the Facilities Master Plan is to reinvest in the students, staff and community so that they have the best opportunity to thrive.
"It's about how do we reinvest in our school district, in our school community? And how do we invest our resources? So it's not about looking at supporting buildings, it's about how do we support our scholars. How do we support our staff in meaningful ways, so that people can have fully operationalize, utilize buildings so that they get the full resources and support that they deserve? And, they don't have to work as hard and so just being really sensitive to that," said Roby.
To best achieve these goals, Roby says they will be conducting town hall meetings with the community in September and October to discuss what their needs are and get their input.
"I think it's important that people are understanding that it's about outcomes for scholars. Making sure that we have equity and access, and that we are also being transparent around our facilities, being good stewards of our facilities. And then the next phase is to do that, what does that mean? This is our, you know, our current reality with enrollment, this is our current reality with staffing. And this is what our projected needs are, how do we kind of do that co-create that narrative together, and bring forward some ideas for our board to consider for the future," Roby said about the importance of the community engagement through the town halls.
After the town halls this fall, Roby hopes to have the Facilities Master Plan created sometime in December of 2022. After the plan is created, she says they will reach back out to the community to talk about the impact of the plan on students and families in the district.
"That also requires having conversations with our staff, because we want staff to know, we are not cutting our way to prosperity. That is not what this is about. This is about how do we get tighter in our resources so that we can be more competitive and offer more to our staff, because they work really hard. And they deserve that. And so we want to make sure that staff understand that they have a pathway in GRPS," Roby added.
When the Facilities Master Plan is finalized and completed, the district hopes that they can grow innovative and adaptive approaches to using their facilities. A consolidation approach could also help foster staff development as teachers would be in closer proximity to work on curriculum planning or child development together.
The town hall meetings to discuss the plan moving forward aren't scheduled yet, but Roby encourages community members in the district to keep an eye on the GRPS website for dates.
"We're planning on nine at this time. If we need to expand to more, we are certainly willing to do that as well. But we want to make sure that we have [them in] different parts of the city so that nobody has to travel too far. And we provide opportunities for people to hear, hear what the plan is, and to weigh in on it," Roby concluded.
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