GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Grand Rapids Public Schools announced last week it would close up to a dozen schools during the next seven months in an effort to reinvent itself and offer better education to its thousands of students.
The school district is in the process of figuring out how to determine which schools will remain open and which will close. During a brainstorming session Monday, board members and GRPS staff narrowed down the determining factors.
Things like community support, parent involvement and academic achievement were high on the list. But GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal made it clear that while school officials want input from the community, they will make decisions they think are smart for the district as a whole.
"We will create a process for this community so that people will have a voice, but it will not be the squeakiest wheel," said Weatherall Neal.
Forty thousand kids who live in district boundaries choose to go elsewhere. During the past 10 years, GRPS enrollment has dropped by about 8,000 students and the district has closed about 25 schools or programs. Many of those have been repurposed, so only about seven buildings were actually sold or stand empty.
How many students are in each building will also play into the final decision.
District spokesman John Helmholdt pointed out their research has shown it costs roughly the same amount to keep a school open with 200 or 400 students.
"At the end of the day, you cannot have a building that is at one-fourth capacity and expect taxpayers to support that," Weatherall Neal said at the brainstorming session.
Board members and the superintendent understand that some people are going to be upset with whatever decision they make. They hope people understand the closures are going to happen to help the district move forward and hopefully offer better education for GRPS students.
"I think that in the past, we've closed because of declining enrollment," Weatherall Neal said. "Where we are trying to look at it now, we are closing or reinventing because of the need, so not just letting the enrollment drive it."
The new district reinvention has the potential to leave more buildings empty in Grand Rapids communities. 24 Hour News 8 asked Weatherall Neal about that. She said she would encourage the board not to sell closed schools immediately in the hopes that the reinvention will spur enrollment, but she did acknowledge there is a distinct possibility some buildings may be empty.
"I'm sure that there are community members that are going to be very nervous. Buildings, empty buildings, in their neighborhood," said Weatherall Neal. "But I say for those, come out. Have a voice and enroll your children in GRPS."
The district plans to announce which schools will close next spring and will have public meetings before then.
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