District continues public dialogue on reorganization

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE — Parents of students in the district had more than a few questions about the proposed restructuring of Southgate Community Schools for the 2012-13 academic year.

An informational meeting held last month generated dozens of inquiries, and the weeks since brought even more.

Supt. William Grusecki said that all questions will be answered before final decisions are made next month. He hoped to have the most pressing issues addressed on the district’s web site by Friday, and welcomes additional dialogue at tomorrow’s regular board of education meeting.

The session begins at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Anderson High School, 15475 Leroy.

“If they want more detail they can ask Monday,” Grusecki said. He expected to have parent concerns posted in question-and-answer form on the district website, www.southgateschools.com.

Grusecki and school officials discovered in November that the expected budget deficit for next year of about $750,000 was, in reality, in excess of $3 million after receiving an audit report from Hungerford & Co. The size of the financial shortfall meant that some drastic changes were needed, to include closing three facilities.

Grusecki, board members and administrators met in December with parents and teachers to review a proposed plan. Chormann and North Pointe elementary schools and Gerisch Middle School would close under the realignment, which would place all sixth- through eighth-grade students at Davidson Middle School and all ninth- through 12th-grade students at Anderson High School.

The shift will result in layoffs of educators and administrators, and is expected to address more than half of the anticipated budget deficit.

Grusecki, who joined Southgate last summer, wasn’t sure what to expect from parents and staff. He spoke with other superintendents throughout the state who had gone through similar transitions.

“There’s not a manual on how to do this,” Grusecki said. “You just get a basic feeling from the community. Listen to them and give them an opportunity to voice their concerns. We worked really hard to do that.”

The general response was better than Grusecki expected, and he understood the questions raised: Which students will go to which schools, how many pupils can Anderson accommodate, and can the district ensure student safety with more people in the buildings.

Closing a school is not an easy decision, but reality may dictate the choices to be made. The district that once educated more than 5,000 general education students now hosts about 4,250, and there are no indications that the population will increase. The anticipated class of 2013-14 is expected to feature 150 fewer students.

Grusecki said that for the most part parents have been understanding. After tomorrow’s meeting, the proposed changes will be put to a board vote in February.

“It’s been pretty good, better than I thought,” Grusecki said. “Once we get past this, the work really starts with schedules and all that.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)