Farmington parents resigned to more school closings

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

For many Farmington parents, watching the district close schools is nothing new.

In 2010, the Farmington Public Schools closed four elementary schools because of declining enrollment.

Now, the district has decided to close Harrison High School and Dunckel Middle School over the next few years for that same reason.

“Overall, I would have to agree with (the decision) as much as it pains me,” parent Mark Przeslawski said. “Because the enrollment projections are getting to the point where we can potentially put the kids in high school into two buildings.”

The school board on Tuesday night approved closing Harrison in spring 2019 and closing Dunckelnext year. It also agreed to place the restructured K-8 Highmeadow Common Campus STEAM Academy in the building that now houses Dunckel.

When Harrison closes, students will transfer to either Farmington High or North Farmington High.

Patricia Devine said she was saddened to see school closures for the second time since her son has been a student in the district. Her son, a sophomore at Harrison, had to switch schools in fourth grade when his elementary school closed.

“Closing any school in the district isn’t what I would choose,” Devine said in a Facebook message to The Detroit News. “It’s devastating to everyone ... students, teachers, administrators and parents.”

Superintendent George C. Heitsch insists the closures are the best way to handle declining enrollment in Farmington which has suffered a loss of 1,000 students in the past four years.

Farmington is among many Metro Detroit school districts that have shuttered or repurposed school buildings because of drops in enrollment. In 2013, the Bloomfield Hills School District merged Andover and Lahser high schools because there weren’t enough students to justify two schools. Detroit Public Schools has been closing schools for a number of years due to declining enrollment and budget deficits.

Heitsch said a combination of factors has led to fewer school-age children in Metro Detroit suburbs, including a lower birth rate in southeast Michigan, fewer families with school-age children or families with children moving to suburbs that are even farther out where there is a more attractive housing market.

He said the declining enrollment in Farmington has put a dent in the district’s budget, as it receives $10,000 per student in state funding.

“It’s a really tough conversation,” Heitsch said. “We have an obligation for every child in the district and we want to make sure we have resources available to meet that obligation.”

While many in the school community agreed the the loss of Harrison and Dunckel would be devastating for Farmington, some parents believed it would allow the district to better serve the children.

In fact, Karen Kmieciak said the district wasn’t moving fast enough on closing schools.

She said waiting three years for Harrison to close provides no immediate relief for the budget.

“I just think that we needed to make more painful cuts,” said Kmieciak, who has three children in the district. “If we are already struggling so much… we might need to hurt a little bit and close some buildings and put everyone together so that we can get better programming.”

Tammy Luty has three children in Farmington Schools and two will be affected by the changes.

Her daughter will be a freshman at Harrison High School next year, but the school will close before her senior year.

“I know that as a community we will work on ways to find what’s best for these students as they move to the other two buildings,” said Luty, who is also president of the Dunckel Middle School Parent Teacher Student Association.

Heitsch said there are no immediate plans to lay off staff members under the restructuring plan.

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