Grosse Pointe votes to close Poupard, Trombly elementary schools

Jun 25, 2019 at 6:02 pm
click to enlarge Grosse Pointe votes to close Poupard, Trombly elementary schools
Alex Harring

The Grosse Pointe Board of Education voted Monday to close both Charles A. Poupard Elementary School and Robert Trombly Elementary School, in a move to save money due to shrinking enrollment numbers.

The 5-2 decision is a controversial one because Poupard, on the north end of the district, has a majority Black student population, is located in Harper Woods, and is the only school in the district that has a Title I designation. The designation specifically allows the elementary school to acquire additional funding to improve the academic achievement of low-income students.

The potential closure of the school has been a point of contention since at least January, with some community members saying that the school’s closure would be a result of allegedly biased and racist views by the district and members of the school board. About 200 people attended a meeting held at Brownell Middle School to voice concerns and witness the outcome of the vote.

"I mentioned how Grosse Pointe is fortunate with a strong sense of community, educated, financially prosperous, and yet overwhelmingly white," Dr. Agustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said, according to The Detroit Free Press. "But it also has a legacy and history of bigotry and exclusion."

Arbulu also indicated that, in the past, Grosse Pointe has excluded African-Americans, Jews, and immigrants from wealthy enclaves through deed restrictions. He asked the board to delay its decision.

The district had previously asked Arbulu and his colleagues at the MDCR to hold listening sessions to identify underlying community concerns. His team found that people felt unheard in the deliberation process. In a June 17 report, the MDCR ultimately recommended for the school district to restart the decision-making process "with an eye to creating a more inclusive and transparent process."

Some community members expressed their disappointment via social media:

Both Trombly and Poupard are now slated to close in June 2020. Due to the location of Poupard, students will now have to travel across I-94 to attend a different school.

Board member Cindy Pangborn and trustee Christopher Profeta were the two who voted against the closures. Profeta expressed concerns for the students at Poupard.

“I think the challenges are very real and I think displacing them and disrupting the program in place would be a challenge for them," he said, according to the Free Press.

Board members said the school closure and reconfiguration decisions were an unavoidable result of declining enrollment. “At a loss of 100 students on average and approximately $10,000 allocated per student each year, this means the district has lost approximately $1 million in funding annually,” MT previously reported.

Notably, the Grosse Pointe school board has consistently rejected opting into the Schools of Choice program, which would allow it to bring more students into the district.
MT also previously reported that community members signed petitions to recall some members of the board because community members disagreed with their recommendations. Profeta, secretary Kathleen Abke, and treasurer Judy Gafa are facing recall notices, and the election commission will meet on Wednesday afternoon to go over the petitions, according to the Free Press.

click to enlarge Grosse Pointe votes to close Poupard, Trombly elementary schools (2)
Alex Harring

Community members also called foul because the school closure decision is coming one month after the district voted to approve an $111 million bond to update the schools. The board, however, said that the potential for school closures was already on the table before the vote.

In addition to the school closure vote, the district also voted to reconfigure the grades for each schools. The vote indicated that K-4 will attend elementary schools, grades 5 through 8 will attend middle schools, and grades 9 through 12 will be taught in high schools.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.