As Michigan’s economy continues to decline, many are moving away to find something better. As families leave, so do their kids and school enrollments are dwindling and small districts are getting smaller. As school funding dwindles because of the loss of students, districts are considering ways to save money. Many districts have considered the idea of consolidating with another district, or at least sharing services.
By sharing the costs of services such as maintenance, transportation, food service and administration, districts hope to save enough money to get by until the economy rebounds or another baby boom occurs.
Not only are people leaving because of the economy, birthrates across Michigan are down 15 percent in the last two decades, which means there are less children entering school. Statewide, public school enrollment is expected to drop by 20,000 to 25,000 annually through 2011 (LSJ).
For Perry Public School District, this situation is very real. Their numbers are expected to drop significantly next school year because of a large graduating class, but the amount of school of choice students and the districts preparation for the decrease in enrollment should help cushion the loss.
“The past five years we have tightened the belt everywhere, from class supplies to altering the heating and cooling,” said Bob Hahn, Perry Public School District’s business manager. “Next year will be a struggle, but the small changes are adding up to help.”
Currently, Perry Public School District does not share costs with any other district, but would be willing to offer services to Morrice Area Schools, a neighboring district.
One area that Perry is willing to help in is bussing. Perry currently has 15 busses and a bus garage with a mechanic and Morrice has three busses, one of which they bought from Perry last year. The districts are so close that it would not be hard for Perry to provide bussing for Morrice, said Hahn.
Sharing costs relieves pressure from districts and merging two school districts and creating a new one would also eliminate certain costs.
The idea of merging the two districts was proposed by public petition, rather than the school boards, in Shiawassee County in November and was placed on the ballot in January. However, the merger was rejected. It was the 16th failed merger effort in Michigan in 17 attempts since 1991, and the second failed merger between the two districts.
The merger failed this year because of the timing, and the public not being prepared, said Hahn.
If consolidation was approved both existing school districts would cease to exist and a new school district would be created. The intermediate school district/regional educational service district would elect an interim board of education that would serve until regular school elections in May. The interim board would take over all operations of the district, including staff hiring, class and grade configuration and the budget, among others.
“Collaboration is not a bad idea, but if it would have passed the schools would not be running because of how the system works,” he said.
According to Hahn, the superintendent of the Shiawassee Regional Educational Service District has stressed the opportunities that collaborating might offer.
Merging Perry and Morrice would be ideal. Perry has 1800 students in the district, with over 100 being school of choice students from Morrice, and Morrice has less than 600 students. If the two were to merge, it would not be hard for Perry to take on 600 students, said Hahn.
However, the voters decided that the districts will not merge unless it is required by the state, and the votes from January clearly stated that Perry and Morrice will not be merging in the near future.