A drop in the bucket: Student enrollment goes down as the board looks to possible school closures


Audrey Whitaker '19

Empty seats. South has seen a drop in enrollment for the 2018-19 school year leaving residents wondering if there will be school closures in the near future.

Audrey Whitaker '19, Pulse editor in chief

As enrollment continues to decline throughout the district, district officials, teachers and community members may face major changes due to less state funding.

According to Dr. Jon Dean, deputy superintendent of the Grosse Pointe Public School System (GPPSS), enrollment in the district is based on two state-mandated count days. On these days, attendance is used to gauge funds for the district on a per-student basis as a percentage of the time they spend in school.

“If you attended each of your hours that day, you were considered a 1.0 student or a full-time student,” Dean said. “After a period of time, the state of Michigan would give us funding based on you being a full-time student.”

According to Dean, there are a variety of checks in place to account for students who were absent that particular day, as well as students who may go to school part-time. Dean said these count days occur in the fall and spring. The most recent count day occurred on Oct. 3, 2018.

Enrollment has been steadily decreasing by approximately 100 students per year, according to Dean. In a report given to the school board in November by Dean, data showed a steady decline in enrollment since 2008, which has begun to plateau at the elementary level.

“If you asked me five years ago, I would have told you that it’s mostly at the elementary level and made its way forward to being in the middle and high school,” Dean said. “Currently when we look at change from year to year, the biggest changes and differences are at the secondary level.”

Michelle Orhan has taught elementary school in GPPSS since 1997.  According to Orhan, declining enrollment has been tough on teachers, as one of her coworkers who’s specials schedule changes every day.

Dean said declining enrollment isn’t a problem that’s new or unique to Grosse Pointe.

“The decline in enrollment has been experienced nationwide, statewide and countywide,” Dean said. “Basically, what that is a demographic shift where people aren’t having as many kids as they used to have. So you’re seeing fewer students coming through the system.”

In Dean’s report, it’s evident that Grosse Pointe isn’t the only city in Michigan facing declining enrollment. Since 2008, statewide K-12 enrollment has fallen from 1,612,425 students to 1,468,256, a difference of more than 140,000. Within GPPSS, 980 fewer students are enrolled for the 2018-2019 school year than in 2008-2009.

The report also presents data from area private schools, including St. Paul, St. Clair and Star of the Sea. Enrollment at these schools has declined between the years of 2009 and 2017 by a rate of 21 to 30 percent everywhere besides Liggett, where enrollment increased by seven percent.

“For the short term, (declining enrollment) means we have less funding, and it also means that there are fewer services we have to provide,” Dean said. “But it does mean that our student population is declining, and then that causes us to respond accordingly in terms of staffing and all those sorts of things.”

“There’s going to be a lot more coming, so I encourage you to pay attention in January.””

— Brian Summerfield, board president

According to board president Brian Summerfield, one of those responses may be closing a school.

“What you’ll see if we don’t shrink our footprint, as far as how many schools we operate, is that we’ll have to come back to programming or increase class sizes or staff pay or do things like that,” Summerfield said.

Summerfield said a Blue Ribbon Committee began surveying community response to these solutions last year.

“The Blue Ribbon committee was essentially about one-third opposed, about one-third dependent if it was (their) school or not,” Summerfield said. “The one third that wanted to address the issue because there was a larger consensus of negative support, we tabled that.”

Summerfield said the school board is on the lookout for certain data that will trigger changes in the district. The board put together a resolution which stated if certain triggers are met, the administration will make a cost comprehensive plan to address declining enrollment, according to Summerfield.

Those triggers include overall student population, elementary student population, middle school student population and high school student population, as well as individual school capacity Summerfield said.

“Those triggers were just met, so in January, we’re going to get a comprehensive plan from the administration that will start the process of reconfiguring this district to address the decline in enrollment,” Summerfield said.

Orhan added while she believes the district has worked hard to involve and inform the community, it’s hard to come to a consensus.

“I think that the district has done an amazing job of attempting to get the information out; between holding town hall meetings, the information they distribute to the district as a whole, and I think the parents are aware, but it’s always the same thing,” Orhan said. “Everybody says they’re okay with a school closing, but nobody wants their school to close.”

Summerfield also said he encourages the community to pay attention to changes in the district in the coming months.

“The district has been paying attention to this, we’ve been talking about it for the last two years,” Summerfield said.  “There’s going to be a lot more coming, so I encourage you to pay attention in January.”