After months of studies and surveys focused on building utilization issues, Plante Moran officials presented both their short-term recommendations and long-term considerations to the Walled Lake Consolidated School District’s Board of Education on Thursday, May 19.
Based on the facility study, Plante Moran’s short-term recommendations include closing four buildings within the district — Maple and Twin Beach elementary schools, as well as the Twin Sun Facility and the Community Education Center.
According to Walled Lake Schools Director of Community Relations Judy Evola, the district began conducting the study to “best ensure that we are utilizing our buildings’ space in the most cost-effective, efficient ways and that our facilities balance with our enrollment and curricular needs.”
According to Plante Moran’s preliminary findings that were released in January, the elementary schools are at 83 percent capacity with their current total enrollment of 6,618. The current enrollment capacity is 7,884.
Over the next five years, enrollment is projected to drop to 5,999 elementary school students. This would lower the enrollment to 76 percent of building capacity, with most of the schools being under-utilized.
“With the decreasing enrollment trend, practically speaking, it would lead one to think that we would be under-utilized at some point,” said Bill Chatfield, the district’s director of operations.
Last month, a facility study update showed that most of the buildings would fall below a 70 percent utilization level within the next five years.
Although nothing is finalized, based on the facility study update presented earlier this month and the recommendations put forth by Plante Moran, the possibility exists that the district could decide to close one or more elementary school buildings.
Based on the results of a public online survey, the three most important criteria to consider when deciding which building to close were ranked as follows: age and condition of the building; the number of students attending; and the cost of operating the building.
Although five of the schools are older than Twin Beach (58 years) and Maple (40 years), both ranked in the low end of the range for composite EFI based on condition and function. As for students attending, the two schools are the smallest elementaries in the district and are also two of the elementaries with the highest operational costs.
According to Plante Moran’s recommendations, closing Maple would provide the district an annual savings of $350,000 in operational costs, while shuttering Twin Beach would save $305,000 in operational costs each year.
While both Options A and B call for closing Maple and Twin Beach, Option A maintains the traditional K-5 grade configuration and relocates students to nearby elementary schools.
Meanwhile, Option B calls for revising grade configurations by pairing “sister schools.”
A little under 75 percent of those surveyed online stated they would support reconfiguration of grade levels into separate buildings, such as early elementary (K-2) and upper elementary (3-5) if it meant improved instruction and reduced expenses for the district.
According to the Plante Moran recommendations, this could possibly create additional opportunities for student/teacher match and possibly level enrollment in grades throughout the district.
Further short-term recommendations include closing the Twin Sun Facility for an annual operational savings of $35,000. Current preschool programs would be relocated to buildings with existing preschools.
Another short-term recommendation is to close the Community Education Center, which would result in an annual operational savings of somewhere between $175,000 and $375,000.
Further review was also suggested for all buildings to compare “moth ball costs” vs. demolition costs.
All updated facility presentations can be found at www.wlcsd.org.
The facility study is taking place as the district prepares to make significant budget cuts for the 2011-12 academic year.
While the district initially expected to have to make spending reductions of $20 million for the upcoming budget year, that number has grown to $24 million after further analysis of several factors, including Gov. Rick Snyder’s state budget for the 2011-12 year that calls for reductions in per-pupil spending.
After factoring in retirement rate increases, special education funding reductions, health insurance cost increases, temporary state and federal funds, state-funded programs, enrollment declines, additional unemployment, and Snyder’s budget, district officials now believe the district will lose $1,559 per pupil for the next school year.