Yesterday I posted about the dynamics of declining enrollment and teacher staffing levels and salary. While doing the research, I became curious about the longer term historical enrollment and teacher staffing data for the Grosse Pointe Public School System. So I went back and compiled everything I could find from 1992.

The first two charts here show teacher staffing levels and enrollment levels for each from 1992 to 2015. (Click to enlarge if hard to read.) Not charted is this year’s enrollment which is about 8,023. GPPSS enrollment now is about equal to 1995 levels and, at least for that year, the teacher staffing levels were about equal to what they are today.

GPPSS Enrollment 1992 to 2015

The chart below visualizes the ratio over these years and shows  fairly wide fluctuations in pupil to teacher ratio. What may appear as small changes in ratio can mean significant changes in teacher staffing levels.

For example, in the years 1999 and 2009, GPPSS enrollment was about equal (8,582 and 8,562). Yet pupil to teacher ratio in 1999 was 18.6 to 2009’s 19.9. A look at the chart above shows this difference is the equivalent of 30 teachers. The GPPSS had 460 teachers in 1999 and 430 in 2009.

30 teachers leaves a real mark, I can assure you.

GPPSS Pupil Teacher Ratio 1992 to 2015

Notice also the trend up in ratio 2004 to 2010. From being on the Board of Education at that time, this was a period of intense financial contraction. Clearly part of the response was reduction in teaching staff. Teacher staffing levels were cut by 14% in this period. A good example of how student choice got hurt was that in that time the middle school bell schedule was cut from 7 to 6 periods. Of all the decisions I made as a trustee, this is the one I regret the most.

It was at that point in 2009, as we faced another multi-million shortfall I realized the financial strategies we were using would never work. Despite doing things like cutting middle school student choice, we could not escape the annual shortfalls. This is what led to the teacher contract of 2010.

What is also noteworthy is the current trend. In the last two years ratios have begun to rise again and we also see a similar financial contraction. The $4 million operating budget surplus of 2014 has dropped every year since and now the district projects just a break even budget. This is a trend to watch, especially since…

…we continue to see enrollment drop. And here we stand at an enrollment of roughly 8,000 and we know historically, at least as far back as 1992, enrollment was 600 students lower than it is right now. When you examine census data, as I have, you have to expect at this point that this is where we are headed.

The bad news is I do not think we have found the bottom as it relates to enrollment. The good news is I am certain the GPPSS was flourishing in 1992, although the financial rules have changed quite a bit. We had better be certain of our strategy as we face this dynamic.