Anticipating fewer students, GRPS cuts budget

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan’s largest school district, Grand Rapids Public Schools, will see a tighter budget for the upcoming school year. 

The district passed its budget for the 2019-2020 academic year at a Monday night budget hearing. 

GRPS Chief Financial Officer Larry Oberst said the district expects to see 200 fewer students return this fall. During the budget hearing, he explained that the dip in enrollment means GRPS will receive $1.6 million less in state dollars. But it will still have to pay the same number of teachers, he said, because the losses are scattered throughout schools in the district. 

Oberst said funding cuts at the federal level will strain the budget even more. 

Overall, the district’s new budget is a $10 million reduction from last year.

Tenille Harkness, whose two children attend Harrison Park Elementary on the city’s northwest side, went before the school board to express her concern about news of falling enrollment numbers. 

“That should be a concern of y’all’s. I think that it is a concern,” she said. 

grand rapids public schools harrison park elementary
Harrison Park Elementary in Grand Rapids. (June 17, 2019)

She said she has seen the direct connection between decreasing district enrollment and funding from the state and federal government. 

“I’ve been in cities where the schools have closed down and teachers can’t find the jobs,” Harkness told 24 Hour News 8 after the budget hearing. 

She said she doesn’t think most parents in the district know how serious the threat of losing funding is. 

Oberst said that the district is focused on retention and stabilizing its enrollment numbers, but an expected 200-student loss isn’t helping. 

“We can’t continue to sustain revenue losses like that,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “Going forth strategically, we may have to make some changes in where our buildings are located and those kinds of things.”

The CFO said that district officials proactively made adjustments to cushion the district from massive changes. 

Harkness said she has complete faith in her district’s leaders. For her, addressing the problem is the city’s responsibility. Harkness told the six school board members who attended Monday’s meeting that they need to help city leaders address the dire need for affordable housing and good-paying jobs. 

Without a change, she and Oberst believe the district exodus will continue. 

“Do I want to see it (declining enrollment) here? No. I think it’s going to affect the students. It’s going to affect the parents. It’s going to affect this school district. It’s going to affect everyone,” Harkness said.

“Fewer students, we’re going to need fewer teachers (and) we’re probably going to need fewer buildings,” Oberst said.

GRPS still intends to move forward with plans to add more high school grades to its Grand Rapids Public Museum School next year, as well as other projects.

Harkness said she would like to see more parents email the board or attend the meetings so they can be heard.

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