Parents react to Farmington school-closing options

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Farmington — When Antoinette Hughes and her family moved to Farmington Hills last year, they were partly lured by the quality of the school district.

But nearby Warner Upper Elementary and O.E. Dunckel Middle are among the schools included on a list the district has identified for potential “repurposing” or closure as it works to combat enrollment and revenue drops. That affects the options for her 10-year-old daughter, so Hughes spoke out Monday night on the plans during a community meeting.

“I have great concern knowing that I live on the northern edge of Farmington Hills and there would practically be no schools there,” Hughes told the audience. “I can’t wrap my mind around that.”

Dozens of parents, residents and others attended the meeting Monday at Farmington High School to voice their thoughts on the proposed plans to possibly shutter two to five schools.

It was the final such forum since Farmington Public Schools officials in July discussed the recommendation by a consultant and the district’s Building and Site Utilization Committee.

The committee has recommended that if an elementary were to close, it would be Beechview, Kenbrook or Highmeadow Common Campus. If an upper elementary/middle school were to close, it would be Warner Upper Elementary or Dunckel Middle. If a high school were to close, it would be Harrison. The number of schools that would be closed or repurposed depends on the grade configuration chosen, district officials said.

District leaders have said decisions would not be finalized immediately. Superintendent George Heitsch said a determination on grade configurations isn’t expected until later this fall, while any decision on school closings isn’t likely until March.

The forums, he said, were to gauge the community’s perspective, which would be considered moving forward. “I’m just grateful people care this much,” he said.

During the meeting, attendees spent more than two hours sharing their thoughts on the plans and suggesting alternatives.

Many worried about the grade configurations, what would happen to programs at shuttered schools and the impact on neighborhoods when students are relocated.

“There’s going to be traffic problems. There’s going to be assimilation problems,” parent Joe O’Connor said. “No one in the district is untouched by any of these changes.”

But others urged patience and acknowledged the district’s issues.

Since 2000, Farmington Public Schools’ enrollment has fallen 12.3 percent, and the district’s revenue fell nearly 15 percent from 2006-14, from $171.8 million to $157 million.

“The numbers are quite clear,” said Friederike Birach, another parent. “I’m pleased to see that the board and administration are very thoroughly trying to find the best solution.”

Mark Przeslawski, who lives in West Bloomfield Township but has two children in the district, said he wanted officials to consider the long-term effects of the proposed measures.

“Do we need to do reductions? Yes,” he said. “Do we need to do them logically? Yes.”