Community Education Center on chopping block as district begins budget discussions
Six years after a recommendation to close the Walled Lake Community Education Center was made but shelved, district officials have once again begun the conversation to shutter the nearly 100-year-old building.
During their meeting on Thursday, February 2, the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools Board of Education was presented with a proposal to close the Community Education Center (CEC) at the end of the 2016- 17 school year. The recommendation was based on a 2011 facility study and analysis of the district’s budgetary situation, and was made as one of the continual budget reductions made over the past 15 years.
The decision to possibly close the center would be a major blow to the community and its students, local education advocates and parents said during a community forum with district officials last week.
“I understand when dollars just don’t work, but I am still really struggling with how this is going to make anything better when you see what you’re losing,” Charlene Long said. “I’ve lived here long enough that I’ve seen the student numbers go up and go down and buildings being sold. So we lose a historic building and then the numbers go up again, then what do we do?”
“The word on that school building is community … That is a community school; that’s adults, that’s somebody trying to get a little exercise in the gym,” Janice Leonhardt said. “It alarms me to think that [they’ve] already scheduled the farewell ceremony for this building.”
The recommendation to close the CEC is being made as part of continual budget reductions. According to district officials, reasons for reductions include declining enrollment and revenue, paired with increasing operational expenses. The district is projected to lose 1,200 students in the next five years, or approximately 150-200 less incoming kindergartners for every graduating senior.
Following a 2011 facility utilization study by Plante Moran, district officials made the decision to close Maple and Twin Beach elementary schools at the end of the 2011-12 school year. The closing of Maple saved the district an estimated $350,000 annually in operational costs, while Twin Beach’s shutdown saved approximately $305,000 per year, respectively.
“We’ve made reductions for the past 15 years to the tune of $66 million. We’ve done a lot of things. In addition to closing two buildings, we’ve privatized staff and reduced staff district wide by over 33 percent. We’ve reduced every location and every department,” Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Teri Les said. “It becomes difficult year after year to continue to come up with reductions that amount to anything … This is one thing that we have really hesitated to do, much like a lot of our decisions.”
According to Les’ early estimates, the district is facing a projected $8 million deficit if reductions are not made.
“What do we need to do? We need to come up with $8 million and our options … are not very extensive anymore,” she said. “Unlike a corporation, it’s illegal for us to operate in a deficit. We have to come up with a balanced budget.”
On average, the CEC costs $116,893 to operate, according to figures from a 2011 facility utilization study by Plante Moran. Today, operational costs are nearly $225,000 per year, a savings that will be realized annually, according to district officials.
The CEC building has been appraised at $700,000. Razing the building, which is included in the proposal, would cost approximately $750,000. Costs associated with the demolition of the building and relocation of programs and services (approximately $1 million) would be covered with a combination of funds from the district’s Safety, Security & Technology Bond and sinking fund.
“Three years ago, as the planning for the bond work got underway, it was our intention to complete all of the same safety, security and technology improvements at the CEC that we did at the rest of the buildings, but by the time we got to designing it, it was clear the enrollment trends were not going to reverse and we were going to have excess space. We put improvements on hold knowing that this discussion was going to have to take place,” Director of Operations Bill Chatfield said. “We can use the bond money that was designated for the CEC to do the demolition work. We can also use the money to make improvements at other schools that are going to accommodate programs.”
Existing programs at the CEC include:
- Post-secondary transitions
- Prime Time Care
- Community recreation
- Pre-school and Great Start Readiness Program
- Levels for Assisting Transition in Education (LATE)
- Lakes Area Youth Assistance (LAYA)
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- Adult education
A recommended relocation plan presented to the board includes moving:
- Adult Education Program to various middle and high school buildings
- Adult Education Director’s Office to the Educational Services Center (ESC)
- Community Recreation Supervisor’s Office to the ESC or Geisler Middle School
- Lakes Area Youth Assistance to the ESC or Geisler Middle School
- Levels for Assisting Transitions in Education Program to options within the district or Oakland Schools
- Post-Secondary Transitions Program to Walled Lake Western High School
- Pre-school and Great Start Readiness Program to five classrooms at various elementary schools throughout the district
- Pre-school and Great Start Readiness Program supervisor’s office to the ESC or Geisler Middle School
- Prime Time Care manager’s office at the ESC or Geisler Middle School
- Due to space limitations, the district may not be able to host the Women Infant and Children program
Because community recreation uses both the main and auxiliary gyms at the CEC for adult evening leagues, it is likely that both adult basketball and floor hockey will be eliminated as other gyms around the district are utilized for both interscholastic and recreational programs. No other programs are anticipated to be eliminated.
The summer food program will continue and will be housed at the CEC for the summer of 2017, and district officials will investigate a new location for 2018. The Wall of Fame will be relocated to the ESC board room.
A second community forum meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 28 at 10:30 a.m. at the Commerce Township Community Library.
The board of education is expected to vote on the proposal during their meeting on Thursday, March 2. That vote would be for the closure of the CEC and relocation of services, as well as authorizing the administration to move forward with plans for demolition and sale of the property, if approved.
If approved, parental notification and program relocation would be distributed in March; demolition and relocation preparations, storage purging, planning and packing, and technology and infrastructure preparations would begin in April; a farewell ceremony would be held in June; and program relocations would begin this summer. After the farewell ceremony in June, the process of disassembling the building will begin. It is estimated that it would be completed sometime next year.
“We need this information so that we can make the best, fiscally responsible decision for our entire community of 14,000-plus kids. We do realize there are impacts to individuals, but our job is for the entire community and that’s why we are getting this feedback to help us come to those decisions,” Board of Education President Christopher Titus said. “We are totally committed to being fully transparent and we want input from our community. This is the first step.”
“None of this is born out of any desire to close buildings or reduce programs. There’s a history in that building; we want to be respectful of that,” Superintendent Ken Gutman said. “I wish we weren’t in an era of closing buildings, but the fact is that WLCSD’s budget is shrinking along with its student population.”
Editor’s note: The next community forum will be held Tuesday, February 28 at 10:30 a.m. at the Commerce Township Community Library, located in Dodge Park. For more information, visit www.wlcsd.org or email your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anne Seebaldt contributed to this report.