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Grosse Pointe school board rejects push to pause reconfiguration plans

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Grosse Pointe district school board is moving ahead with district reconfiguration plans despite concerns from some in the community about whether the COVID-19 pandemic lingers into the next academic year.

The Grosse Pointe Public School Board of Education listens to an audience member during a meeting June 2019 when the board voted a a plan to close two elementary schools and reconfigure others.

The board of education of the Grosse Pointe Public School System rejected a resolution that Trustee Cindy Pangborn introduced during its meeting Monday night to postpone for at least a year plans to close Poupard and Trombly elementary schools and move all fifth-grade students to three middle schools starting in 2020-21.

Pangborn recently sent a letter to the Grosse Pointe News in which she claimed “the board and administration are not listening and show no respect for” parents, teachers and others who have spoken out about pausing the moves.

She called for stopping the effort “until we see what is happening with COVID-19,” citing concerns the crisis could stretch through the fall.

“I think we need to get serious about the pandemic and what we know,” Pangborn told board members during the live-streamed meeting.

Pangborn also mentioned a Change.org petition seeking to pause the plans that has garnered more than 1,700 signatures.

In addition, several community members who submitted written comments to be read during Monday’s meeting asked the board to reconsider. One resident wrote that it “seems not only unfeasible but unsafe.” Another wrote: “We need a plan that protects all students.”

Throughout a lengthy discussion before their vote, board members said they feared halting the process would affect everything from hiring to contracts and district finances. They also noted state stay-at-home orders were scheduled to end next month.

“Whatever happens in September, I know our administration is going to be ready to deal with it,” Trustee Christopher Lee said. “We are so far down the line with this reconfiguration. It would be way more disruptive to turn back.”

In June, the school board voted to close Poupard and Trombly as well as approved a K-4 and 5-8 reconfiguration. 

The actions followed 15 years of declining enrollment, which meant financial losses for the affluent Metro Detroit district, officials have said.

With each student equal to around $10,000 in school revenue, the district's average 100-student drop per year is $1 million lost.

“We know right now that we are losing students,” Secretary Christopher Profeta said. “We have been for years.”

Board president Margaret Weertz said she worried that reversing course after extensive planning and preparing students “would create chaos for those kids. ... I think stopping this momentum is moving backward.”

Pangborn disagreed. “It’s the wrong time,” she said.

The board also approved the district reconfiguration curriculum, and the Grosse Pointe Foundation for Public Education announced several grants to help with the transition.