Efforts, upcoming millage discussed at GHAPS meeting

Krystle Wagner • Oct 5, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Grand Haven Area Public Schools’ ongoing efforts and initiatives were highlighted earlier this week.

During a meeting at White Pines Intermediate School on Tuesday night, GHAPS employees, community leaders and parents learned about the district’s efforts, staff and security, and the regional enhancement millage that’s on the Nov. 6 ballot.

GHAPS Superintendent Andy Ingall highlighted the district’s one-page strategic plan. He said the staff works hard to ensure core and extracurricular opportunities are of high quality, and staff members work consistently to improve.

“We pride ourselves on an excellent education,” Ingall noted.

The district is comprised of about 6,150 students in 11 buildings and 13 programs. In the past 10 years, enrollment has grown at a steady pace, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Grimes. Enrollment is up by about 196 students in the past decade.

Between 35 and 40 percent of students get free or reduced-priced meals.

To prepare for staffing levels, the district looks at enrollment trends, school of choice, birth rates, local developments and the economy. Overall, the district has more than 820 staff members — 384 teachers; 19 administrators; six directors; 36 secretaries; 114 operations employees such as bus drivers, custodians and food service; and 265 other employees such as playground and classroom aides.

Like other school districts, Grand Haven is seeing a challenge in finding employees. Teacher colleges are seeing a decrease in the number of teaching candidates, Grimes said.

Despite the challenges, Grimes said they hired 35 new teachers for the 2018-19 school year, and they continue to receive candidates because GHAPS is a district people want to work in.

The district is also seeing a challenge in finding employees to fulfill operations roles — bus drivers, custodial workers and classroom aides — because of the economy. Instead of working a few hours in the morning and afternoon, Grimes said individuals can find eight-hour jobs elsewhere.

A 40-member climate committee meets to discuss the social-emotional mental health of staff and students, building security, and how to keep the district safe and working with nearby districts. Some of the efforts in place include Capturing Kids’ Hearts; Question, Persuade and Refer training; and safe zones. Younger students also participate in Second S.T.E.P.

Building security has also changed over the years. Some of those changes include single-access entry points into buildings, more than 300 security cameras with multiple views, and a lockdown button in every building.

The district works with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Haven Department of Public Safety. In addition to fire, tornado and lock-down drills, educators have also been trained in Civilian Response Active Shooter Training.

GHAPS is part of the Ottawa Area Secure Schools Network, a collaborative effort to maintain and improve school safety.

Collaboration and business partnerships are two big focuses, Ingall said. Educators participate in professional learning communities, and the district is working with local businesses for programs such as the K-4 program Homegrown and P.R.I.M.E. at Grand Haven High School.

Ingall also spoke about the Regional Enhancement Millage that Ottawa County voters will see on next month’s ballot. The “Quality Schools, Quality Communities” campaign impacts 11 public school districts and seven public school academics within the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, and voters will be asked to consider a 0.9 mill for 10 years. 

If approved, the millage would collect about $11.2 million annually. Of that, school districts would receive $226 per pupil. GHAPS would receive about $1.4 million annually, Ingall said.

The millage would cost the owner of a home valued at $200,000 about $90 a year in additional property tax.

If approved, GHAPS would use the funds to support school safety, college and career readiness initiatives, and maintaining and growing programs.

School funding dropped following the 2010-11 school year, and districts have worked to keep cuts from classrooms, district officials say. To weather financial challenges, GHAPS has eliminated support staff and elementary counselors, reduced a bus route, every other cleaning at schools, and consolidated services, among other cuts.

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