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Despite restructuring, likely boost in state funding, Grand Rapids schools expects layoffs

Grand Rapids Public Schools will have to dip into its savings account to cover a projected $7.9 million deficit next school year. That’s despite a major restructuring plan and a small increase in funding that’s expected from the state. Grand Rapids schools will still have to lay off roughly 70 employees to balance its budget next school year; 14 of them teachers.

GRPS will get an extra $11 per student next year if Governor Rick Snyder signs a school spending bill, as he's expected to.

The district’s business and finance director, Julie Davis, says that’s an improvement.

“While it’s not a lot we are; we’re happy. You know at least we get a little bit of something – definitely not keeping up with the cost of inflation or cost of living adjustments,” Davis said.

But while schools across the state are likely to see a little more money per student, Grand Rapids schools is expecting to lose about 700 students. Davis says that’s mainly because of competition from new charter schools opening up in the fall.

“We just want to be prepared – they may impact us and our enrollment so we’re planning conservatively,” Davis said.

She admits some of the student loss could be, in part, fallout from a “transformation plan” the school board approved in December that includes closing several school buildings and realigning programs. That plan should save around $5 million a year. But this year, most of that savings will be reinvested instead of staying in the general fund.

“We feel it’s very crucial that we reinvest part of that money,” Davis said, “We’re going to reinvest a little bit more this year so that we make sure we get everything moved to the right spot – that schools are up and ready to go when school starts on September 3rd.”

By this time next year, Davis projects the general fund balance will be at $10.9 million; just 7% of the annual operating budget.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.