Flint, MI— Flint Community Schools is considering closing three elementary schools as part of a deficit elimination plan.
While no decisions have yet been made, and none of Flint’s eight elementary schools has been named for closure, school officials said closing the schools and consolidating students may be necessary to stabilize operating costs while dealing with a shrinking student population.
If the district moves forward with the plans, the schools would close during the 2022-23 school year.
Deputy Director of Finance Ayunna Dompreh presented information about the district’s finances to board members over the course of two budget workshops held on Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. She asked the board to propose scenarios for consideration.
“We are charged with developing an enhanced deficit elimination plan to do an update to what was approved by the state before,” Dompreh said.
Since 2009, student enrollment has decreased by 70% and the district has been unable to downsize fast enough, causing severe budget problems.
For most of the elementary buildings, the amount of state aid, which is determined by a school’s student headcount, and property tax revenue is not enough to cover operation costs.
“The majority of our buildings can’t sustain themselves. So, I believe, our footprint is too large for the amount of students that we have. So, we need to reduce our footprint. And, in doing so, that would mean that we need to reduce the amount of buildings that we have open to help us facilitate that,” Dompreh said.
As an example, Flint Schools receives $1.6 million in revenue for Eisenhower Elementary, but it costs $2.2 million to operate, leaving a $600,000 deficit.
Pierce Elementary, Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary, Potter Elementary, Brownell STEM Academy, Doyle/Ryder Elementary, Freeman Elementary also run deficits each year. Neithercut is the sole elementary school with a positive year-end balance.
Genesee County offers a school of choice program which allows parents to send their child to a district outside of the zip code where they live.
The program has contributed to Flint Schools’ losses. Of the 13,000 school-aged children who live within the Flint School district, 10,722 attend other schools. Carman-Ainsworth, International Academy of Flint, and Westwood Heights are the top three schools of choice, according to data collected by Flint Schools.
Elementary students are 65% of the district’s total student population and kindergarten enrollment is taking an unusual hit in addition to the overall decline in student numbers, Dompreh said. In 2020, the district was down 1,077 kindergarteners.
On average, Flint Schools lose 200 students each year, Dompreh said. If the trend continues, Flint Schools is projected to see a deficit of $5.8 million by the 2021-22 school year. Calculating out further, if nothing changes, the district would be negative $85 million by 2031.
When comparing districts with similar student populations, cutting down Flint Schools’ eight elementary buildings to five would be a reasonable scenario, Dompreh said.
Board members voiced their concerns about the possibility of closing any building down.
“We’re making an erroneous assumption here that we’re just going close schools and the student population is just going to shift to another school. And actual reports and data from previous reports that we’ve done that have been presented to the board actually show that when you close a school, you lose those students, period,” Treasurer Laura MacIntyre said.
Other board members said whatever is decided, the best interests of the kids need to be put first.
“This scenario is not all about money. It’s about giving our kids the best that we can. If I close your school, this is what I’m going to give you…We’ve got to look beyond just closing and let’s put our heads together,” Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Joyce Ellis-McNeal said.
Superintendent Anita Steward said she agreed with Ellis-McNeal and that offering more attractive options for students is being incorporated as part of the district’s Strategic Plan.
This is not the first time Flint Schools has had to discuss closing down buildings.
In July 2020, the board voted to close Flint Junior High, formerly Northwestern High School, to students after learning it required $4 million in repairs to be OSHA compliant. The building remains operating as it houses the district’s $1 million central kitchen.
Flint Schools also own 22 buildings that are sitting vacant, Steward said. Board members discussed the possibility of selling all the properties.
The district will continue working with their municipal advisor, Robert W. Baird & Co. to collect more data and research to better inform the board and guide their course of action.
“We will start with getting assessments for the buildings [to ensure] that the buildings that we choose to close will be based upon some data and that we have the best information to do that. And then ensuring that the buildings that we leave open are the ones that can handle the students…We want to be able to take our time to ensure that we make really sound decisions,” Dompreh said.
The board agreed to take the first steps in analyzing a scenario that includes closing down three elementary schools. Dompreh will present the findings at the next board meeting on Feb. 10. Board members will approve a final plan in March.