GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools is experiencing declining enrollment and is working on a long-term plan to respond by updating programs and potentially repurposing or reducing the number of buildings.

Superintendent Leadriane Roby said slowing birthrates and other factors have had an impact.

“It’s the perfect storm of a lot of different things,” Roby said. “We have families that are choosing additional or extra options outside of the city. We are surviving a pandemic.”

She said other districts are also experiencing similar declines.

A work session on Monday reviewed the enrollment numbers and data on the percentage of building space being used.   

“There was no school that was named. That was not the purpose of it but I think it’s important that we do bring sunlight to we’re starting to have these conversations,” Roby said.

GRPS says it had 19,364 students enrolled in 2008. In 2020, that number had dropped to 14,314 students, about a 26% decrease.

Fewer students has also meant lower building space utilization numbers: 55% of the space at elementary school buildings is being used, 42% at middle schools and 50% at high schools. The state recommends an 85% building utilization rate.

The district is also hoping its magnet schools and the Grand Rapids Promise program will help attract more students.

“What we have seen as our scholars from 2021 and then what we anticipate for this upcoming fall 2022. There’s been a gradual increase of young scholars from Grand Rapids Public Schools enrolling in GRCC,” Roby said.

The superintendent wanted to make clear that the discussions are preliminary, and nothing will change for the start of school on Aug. 23.

“I want people to understand this is not cutting to prosperity. This is about how do we re-invest, re-imagine and repurpose our buildings and our programs. This is not about layoffs, it’s about working smarter,” Roby said.

The district is planning to hold townhall meetings this fall to get input from the public. Those meetings are still being scheduled.

— Correction: GRPS originally said the wrong year in which year 19,364 students were enrolled. The error has been fixed.