GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (GRPS) — The Grand Rapids Public Schools is preparing to engage the community in a discussion about the future of the district’s buildings and the effort to best ensure that school resources are streamlined toward scholar achievement.
GRPS is among the many districts experiencing declining enrollment. Declining birth rates, alternative schooling options, and affordable housing shortages in the city are all part of the reason why.
These are challenges GRPS leaders are committed to discussing openly so that the community understands fully the rationale for decisions that will have an impact on scholars, their families and the community at large.
“It’s like this perfect storm of all these different things that impact enrollment,” Superintendent Leadriane Roby, Ph.D explained. “When you have real talk, you have to give people the information.”
The current GRPS facilities have the capacity to serve more than 26,000 students but the district currently has just over 13,500 scholars enrolled — a building utilization rate of about 53%.
The extra space brings millions of dollars in unnecessary expense to the district, absorbing valuable funds that could be invested in scholars.
“We have about a million square feet that has not been utilized for a long period of time,” Dr. Roby said. “We’re moving our investment out of buildings and putting it back into our students and we’re also putting it back into our staff.”
The district is now looking for ways to address the challenge and working to put together a “Facilities Master Plan”. It will be composed through the lens of the 2022-2027 Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is a guide for our decisions put together last year with the help of our community. As promised in the plan, leaders will be seeking input from the community in deciding what should happen with our buildings and scholar families will be involved from the beginning.
“The next level that we’re planning on doing with this facilities master plan is to go out to our community in different areas of the city and share our story, allow people to ask questions and then also to dream. As you think about GRPS, how do you imagine that you want to revitalize it? How do you want to reinvest in this community? What do you want your children or grandchildren or your neighbors’ children to have as they attend GRPS?” Dr. Roby said.
The GRPS Board of Education convened for a work session on Monday, August 8 to look at the data that will serve as a launching pad for the conversation about the changes the district is considering.
Here is the data provided to the Board of Education that lays out the rates at which we’re occupying our current district space.
Repurposing existing space, consolidating schools, constructing new facilities, and improving current buildings are among the possibilities as the district works to chart a course moving forward.
“It’s about looking at our resources. How do we repurpose them and what makes sense for programs?” Dr. Roby said.
Dr. Roby and the Board of Education are working to finalize a schedule of town hall meetings throughout the community the engage with GRPS families and the district at large.
“We have not made any decisions,” Dr. Roby emphasized.
Timing on when proposed changes may take place will be decided together with the community as well.
“I don’t anticipate that we would see anything before the 2024-25 school year, but it also depends on where our community is,” Dr. Roby said.
The district is not planning any job cuts or layoffs, in fact GRPS is actively searching for the best and brightest team members to join in on the work of educating our scholars.
“We are hiring!” Dr. Roby said. “We have teaching positions and support positions that are available…We would love to have part of our community in GRPS.”
The town hall meetings are planned to begin in September and will be scheduled to maximize accessibility for the community. Options to participate and engage virtually will be included in the plan. Dates and times for opportunities to engage will be announced before the start of the academic year on August 23.
“I believe to my core that this is a defining moment for GRPS and for this community. This is the time for investing, enhancing, upgrading, and revitalizing GRPS. Engaging in this important work now means a much brighter future for GRPS students for years and decades to come,” Dr. Roby said. “We owe this to our scholars, our families, staff, community and the taxpayers of Grand Rapids. We can and will do this with the help and support of everyone.”