Keeping the grass roots growing!!
LAPEER — With many Lapeer-area residents contemplating the choices on next month’s ballot ahead of November’s election, administrators at Lapeer Community Schools (LCS) are planning for a pivotal proposal that will appear in November 2019.
If approved by voters, a proposed plan presented to focus groups late last month will feature a major shake-up of the district’s structure. The proposed plan will call for the reduction of the number of school facilities from 13 to eight by closing and selling Schickler, Murphy, Mayfield and Lynch Elementary Schools as well as the Administrative Service Center, which would save the district approximately $1 million to $1.5 million annually in operational and personnel costs.
The proposal is currently planned for a November 2019 bond proposal and slated to begin implementation for all buildings between 2020- 2022. Under the plan, Early 5 through second-grade students as well as Kids and Company would be located at the Rolland-Warner campus, while third through fifth-graders would attend class at the Zemmer campus. Traditional and year-round sixth-eighth graders would be relocated to the current Lapeer High School campus, while ninth-12th grade students would be housed at the current Center for Innovation campus, formerly Lapeer West High School. The plan reportedly calls for a second floor to be added to the building. In addition, it would also include dedicated community spaces and a performing arts center alongside the existing athletic complex.
According to LCS Director of Communications Jared Field, the “rightsizing” plan is based in part on the current level of usage at LCS facilities, future enrollment projections and “our best thinking about what structure makes the most sense for what we are doing academically (staff collaboration, learning coach model, etc.),” he said.
Field said there are many advantages of having fewer buildings. “From a student and staff security standpoint, we can focus more of our limited resources into securing fewer buildings. We also consider it an advantage from a staff collaboration, professional development standpoint to having grade levels together under one roof,” he said. “Beyond that, there is significant, long-term cost savings that can be achieved with a more efficient structure.”
Nearly 100 people participated in the focus group panel process on Sept. 26 and 28, facilitated by Ray, Mich.-based firm Banach, Banach and Cassidy, including elementary and secondary parents, senior citizens and district alumni, district support staff, area business owners and elected officials and district teachers.
The goal of each panel was to obtain community input related to the proposal for restructuring meant to address a continued decline in student enrollment (fewer births) and ongoing budget challenges.
Each panel started with a presentation by LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie, which was followed by a discussion and a period where panelists were able to “grade” the district and provide ideas or comments for Wandrie and the LCS Board of Education to consider. The information gathered will be used as a decision-making tool as plans move forward toward a restructure.
Wandrie emphasized that the proposed plan was a “work-in-progress,” and that it was a vision for the future that needed community consideration and input. The proposed plan is meant to “jump-start” that thinking about the future.
The proposed plan is another in a series of restructures that have occurred within the LCS district. In 2013, the district was home to just under 6,000 students, a number that has fallen to approximately 4,000 this year, due largely to falling birth rates in Lapeer County. At its peak in 1982, the district was servicing nearly 9,000 students. “There is no cure-all structure for schools. You can find just about any structure imaginable and without even leaving our state. Some structures are, obviously, better than others,” said Field. “In 2004, we operated 16 school buildings in our district with 12 different grade configurations. That structure was not good for anyone. This (2019) plan, in its current form, would require five buildings.”
In 1975, due to growing enrollment, Lapeer High School was split into two separate facilities, Lapeer East (currently the home to Lapeer High School) and Lapeer West (currently housing the Center for Innovation). In March of 2013, the LCS Board of Education voted to consolidate the two schools, and the facilities have been in their current state since the beginning of the 2014 school year.
Field said the proposed plan “represents our best thinking at this time” and is subject to change depending on community input. “The seven focus panels we’ve done so far have already begun that process. We have a track record of flexibility with respect to planning,” he said. “Our current middle level structure is based entirely on the recommendation of our focus groups from our last strategic planning process.”
With a reduction in buildings in operation, Field said it is anticipated that there will be a need to reduce staff, but as of yet the district’s been fortunate to be able to make reductions by natural attrition, mainly retirements. “It goes without saying that a 4,000-student school district would look different structurally and operationally than a 5,000-student district,” he said.
As for transportation, Field said that according to the proposed plan, not much would change. Already the district transports students to both Rolland- Warner and Zemmer campuses from everywhere within the 225-square-mile district, and the number of busses currently in operation coincides with the number of students and duration of routes, not with the number of facilities. “That said, at the direction of our superintendent and board of education, we are exploring innovative ways to make our transportation system more efficient. Our district is…among the largest in the entire state,” said Field. “Transportation is vitally important to our families and we desire to make it as user-friendly as possible.”
Following the completion of the focus groups, consultant William Banach presented to the LCS Board during Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, describing “unanimous support” for the concept of the plan, as well as shared questions and concerns that arose during panel discussions. “With that information, we will sharpen our thinking and speak to those concerns at community engagements in the near future,” Field said. “This the beginning of a much larger process.”
Cost of the bond proposal has not been released.
The next step, said Field, is to hold “much larger” focus groups, which will begin to take place over the next several weeks.