- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2010

DETROIT (AP) | Doors are expected to shut on more than a quarter of Detroit’s 172 public schools in June as the district fights through steadily declining enrollment and a budget deficit of more than $219 million, an emergency financial manager said Wednesday.

Three aging, traditional and underpopulated high schools would be among the 44 closures. Another six schools are to be closed in June 2011, followed by seven more a year later, emergency financial manager Robert Bobb said. This summer’s closings also include a support building.

The closures are part of a $1 billion, five-year plan to downsize a struggling district while improving education, test scores and student safety in a city whose population has declined with each passing decade. The 2010 U.S. Census is expected to show that far fewer than 900,000 people now live in Detroit.

District data shows full-time, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment has decreased from about 164,500 in 2002-03 to 87,700 for the current school year. Enrollment is projected to dip to 56,500 in 2014-15.

Fewer than half the classroom seats in dozens of buildings are filled.

“This creates a leaner, smarter [Detroit Public Schools] by taking into account citywide demographic trends,” Mr. Bobb told reporters, some parents and administrators at King High School. “We’re still going to grow the district. We’re going to do it realistically.”

Other cities face similar woes. The Kansas City, Mo., school district announced plans last week to shut down nearly half its schools by the start of classes in the fall.

Mr. Bobb already ordered 29 Detroit schools closed before the start of classes last fall. The district closed 35 buildings about three years ago.

Several community meetings to get input from parents will be held before final decisions on the schools’ fates are made in late April.

Many of the buildings eventually will be demolished, while others may be sold. The plan also calls for renovations to some to accommodate newer programs and more students.

Some new and renovated schools will house grade levels from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. Others will educate students starting in pre-kindergarten through high school. But new building configurations will ensure younger students don’t encounter older students, Mr. Bobb said.

Several collegiate-style campuses containing separate buildings for various grade levels also will be created.

Thousands of students will be forced to transfer to open schools, and that’s expected to anger parents. But Mr. Bobb hopes to convince them that the closures, along with a recently released five-year plan that calls for more rigorous academics, is best for the district.

The facilities plan will be implemented in two phases. The first is funded by a voter-approved bond sale of $500.5 million. The second calls for voter approval on a second $500 million bond sale “assuming citizens take an active role in a new bond measure in the future,” Mr. Bobb said.

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