Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor has finally released the enrollment figure for the new school year. Almost all of the other public school districts in the state released their figures last month. Taylor embargoed the figure for the GRPS without much explanation, although there really wasn't much doubt why. After Taylor's media blitz to support spending on new consultants, new programs, and new schools to bring back students to the declining school district, not only were this year's losses in enrollment not stemmed, they were greater than last year's.
Nothing but whistling past the graveyard, making a show of what's new and glitzy while ignoring the fundamental problems destroying the school district. Now the official enrollment figure proves it. The number of students attending Grand Rapids public schools this year is just above 20,000. That's a loss of 880 students and about $1.27 million in state taxpayer subsidies for the district. This compares to a loss of 745 students in 2006 and 902 in 2005, which are merely part of a decade-long 25% decline in enrollment. Keep in mind that the losses in those years were not mitigated by Taylor's newly implemented Iron Curtain forcing students exiting charter schools to attend city high schools. Otherwise this year's enrollment loss would have probably exceeded one thousand students.
The school district's official line is that the bad economy is driving families out of Michigan and so students from the Grand Rapids public schools. But I don't think there has been a four percent decline in the city's population over the past summer to match the decline in enrollment. Plus, most of the enrollment losses show up in the elementary schools, not spread out across all grades as would be expected from a general loss of population in the region. Nor are the enrollment figures for other school districts and charter schools consistent with this explanation.
It's true that many breadwinners have left the local area to earn a living elsewhere. Their families have not necessarily followed. And school districts even in the worst hit regions of the state have increased enrollment. So the "bad economy" excuse does not wash. If it did, then the Grand Rapids public schools should have stemmed the enrollment decline by picking up students from families whose stretched budgets can no longer cover parochial or private school tuition. That didn't happen. What did happen is that parents continued to be disgusted with city school officials who won't maintain discipline (here and here), won't enforce basic standards of decency (here and here), think the school district exists for the benefit of those drawing a paycheck from it (here, here, and here), and have nothing but contempt for those who don't want to put their in kids in a rotting system (here).
That last point is important. We can all agree that school board members who call dissenting parents racists or tell them to get the hell of the city if they don't want their kids in the Grand Rapids public schools are a part of the fundamental problem with the district. But consider Superintendent Bernard Taylor's performance in the recent textbook controversy. There was strong objection from the community to a high school textbook laced with obscenities. Taylor thought the book was fine and should be used unaltered. Then he pressed the school board to make a quick decision on it and sweep the matter under the rug. Just who does Taylor think is fleeing his school district? Students with parents who are against obscenity in the classroom or those with parents who don't?
Of course, it is mostly the former. Taylor is either contemptuous of the families he wants to bring back into the school district or he is completely clueless as to what is ticking them off. Either way he is not the man for the job, and keeping the lid of bad news like the big decline in enrollment only delays the day of reckoning.