Lansing School District Battles Deficit And Enrollment

By: Meaghan M. Norman Email
By: Meaghan M. Norman Email

A tough challenge is ahead for the Lansing Public Schools. It's trying to promote itself to prospective students while it looks to close some of its schools to reduce a $30 million budget deficit.

The Lansing School District needs to recruit students. A new advertisement by the district show a dedication of teachers trying to turn out quality students. But with dwindling enrollment and a gaping deficit, it seems they need to close schools almost as much as they need students.

"What we're dealing with, with small population schools, which is the case in our middle and high schools when you look at facilities, the cost per child is going up because you're not able to fully utilize every classroom section," said Jerry Swartz, president of the Lansing Schools Education Association, or the teachers' union.

Lansing superintendent T.C. Wallace Jr. presented his budget Tuesday night, saving the district about $1.6 million, which is $28 million short of the deficit. He proposed a number of options including closing a middle school, elementary schools and later down the line, a high school. Swartz believes a high school should close sooner than later.

"I'd like to look at the analysis as to why we did not more seriously consider a high school because there are substantial savings, millions of dollars in savings, when we look at consolidating a high school," said Swartz.

"We're looking at programs, we're looking at staffing, we're looking at wage concessions, we're looking at reducing our cost for benefits. When we put all that together as a package we'll come close to meeting our target," said Wallace.

Otto Middle School could potentially close.

"We had excess capacity at the middle school level so that's what caused us to zero in on a particular middle school. As we analyzed our four middle schools, we found that Otto was the one that had the most capacity and the fewest students in one of the oldest facilities," said Wallace.

Swartz says that meeting that target require change and sharing.

"In the Lansing School District we're going to see shared services with our neighboring schools," said Swartz.

Enrollment is just one variable, along with a finalized state budget that will determine how many schools will close.

"As we look at enrollment trends, if they continue the way they're going, it's quite possible that you'll see a recommendation to close a high school in the near future," said Wallace.

When asked if he felt that an emergency financial manager would be needed to help the district, as is happening in the Detroit Public Schools System. Wallace said for the time being he's confident that Lansing can handle its financial problems on its own.

"As I look at the legislation, [regarding the need for an emergency manager,] it's intended only to help districts before they get into trouble. So I will continue to look at it and see if that's something that the Lansing School District needs to look at in a proactive way. We don't want to wait and be reactive once we're not able to solve our problems," said Wallace.


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