Parents mixed on proposed Holland Public restructuring

Parents mixed on proposed Holland Public restructuring - News ...

If the board approves, the 2018-19 school year will see Holland switch from the current K-7 model and 8-12 high school to K-5 schools, a designated middle school and a 9-12 high school.

HOLLAND — The Holland Public Board of Education will soon vote on whether or not the district will reorganize the schools, but not before the parents weigh in.

Parents packed the cafeteria at Holland East K-7 on Thursday, March 1, to hear about the possible change to the district. Parents also had the opportunity to fill out “Hopes and Fears” feedback sheets to turn in after Superintendent Brian Davis’ presentation.

If the board approves, the 2018-19 school year will see Holland switch from the current K-7 model and 8-12 high school to K-5 schools, a designated middle school and a 9-12 high school.

Holland Heights, Jefferson, West and Holland Language Academy would be restructured into K-5 schools. Holland East would become the new middle school for grades 6-8, including the 6-8 grade Spanish-immersion students.

In addition to Holland High School housing grades 9-12, the Holland Early College program would move from its separate building into the high school. The Longfellow building, which is the current home of Holland Early College, would become the site of a new magnet school yet to be determined. Maplewood Early Child Center’s Great Start Readiness programs would move to the K-5 buildings. Maplewood would be leased to Head Start and Ottawa Area Intermediate School District early childhood programs.

“We need to look at right-sizing based on our current and projected student enrollment,” Davis said.

As with the original switch to K-7, the restructuring is largely motivated by financial reasons. Holland, like many other urban schools across the state, continues to see a downward trend in enrollment.

There are many reasons Holland and these other schools are experiencing a loss in enrollment. A common thread in all of them is having an older population and fewer children. Between 1997 and 2016, the birth rate in Holland has dropped by 22 percent, from 602 to 472.

It’s also been harder for families to move into Holland, as there isn’t enough affordable housing. Forty-three percent of people in the city of Holland are ALICE households — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. That means they make more than the U.S. poverty level — $24,600 for a family of four — but less than the basic cost of living in Ottawa County (median income $65,004). These ALICE families have trouble finding affordable housing in Holland, and move elsewhere.

School choice has also been a factor. Cumulatively, Holland Public has had a net loss of 1,617 students due to school choice as of the 2016-17 school year, because of families choosing to send their children to charter schools or other public school districts, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Because enrollment is strongly tied to school funding in Michigan, that means less money for the district. Davis noted that education funding from the state dropped after the 2008-09 school year, and is only just now returning to the 2008-09 funding levels. For the past couple of years, Holland Public’s enrollment drops have not been as bad as anticipated in the budget. However, the rate does continue to decline, and Davis said Thursday night that the district is anticipating losing another 97 students for the 2018-19 school year, a loss of $763,487.

By restructuring, the district could save about $1 million annually. Davis said,t without resizing, the district would have to look at program cuts. If the change happens, no programs would be cut, though layoffs would happen due to cutting back on “duplicating.”

“When we do this plan, there will be less individuals across the board, administration all the way down,” he said.

Parents had a mixed reaction to the news, some in favor and some more apprehensive.

“The way he presented it, I don’t see any way around it,” said parent Sunshine Baillargeon-Smith, who has a kindergartener at East. “I hope they can do what they need to do to keep going strong as my three little ones go through the system.”

Baillargeon-Smith added that she liked the idea of a separate middle school.

“I love how they have so much for older kids already, and I want that there for my kids,” she said.

Baillargeon-Smith isn’t alone. In a parent survey conducted in early February, respondents were split almost 50/50 on their approval of the K-7 system. About 40 percent said they wished there was a separate 6-8 middle school, and about 35 percent wanted a 9-12 high school. When those results were broken down to families answering based on their sixth- and seventh-grade experience, 60 percent wanted a separate middle school and 73 percent wanted a 9-12 high school.

“I’m all for going back to the old ways when it comes to changes,” parent Sarita Perez said. “I wasn’t too sure how I felt about my 13-year-old at the high school even though I’ve heard they keep them pretty much separated. I think it was a bad idea to change it in the first place.”

She added, “The only thing I can see parents not liking is if they have more than one child going to different schools. That would be hard to transport if transportation is not available.”

Other parents, like Belia Valdiviez, had some concerns about some of the potential changes.

“My concern is the kids that chose to go to Holland Early College instead of the high school are now being switched over to the high school,” she said. “These are kids that are not focused on the typical high school atmosphere, but more on the growth in their education.”

She added, “I switched my children here after attending charter schools all elementary and part of middle school. Now with the stability not there in HPS like I would have hoped for, I’m faced with some decisions on whether it would be best to move all four kids out of HPS. Either way, I have a feeling they are going to lose a lot of children with these new changes. People want stability when it comes to our children, and I don’t feel they are getting it.”

Parents will have plenty of more time to weigh in before the board makes a decision. Two more meetings will be at East, 373 E. 24th St., at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, and Tuesday, March 20.

The board of education will hear public comment on the proposal at a 7 p.m. meeting Monday, March 19, at East as opposed to the board’s usual meeting location at the administration building.

The board will potentially take action at a special meeting March 26.

— Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelErin.

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