By Charles Sercombe
Can the possible disintegration of Highland Park Public Schools be Hamtramck’s salvation?
Recently, it was reported that the Highland Park school district has lost 50 percent of its students since 2007. The district was at one time similar in size to Hamtramck with 3,672 students but over the past years it has shrunk to 1,783.
The drop-off has resulted in a deficit of $4.5 million.
Over the past several years Hamtramck has experienced a decline of hundreds of students as well, that is, until this current year when the student head count spiked up by 256 students. The total student head count is 3,092. That increase is the second highest in the tri-county area.
Superintendent Tom Niczay credits that increase to a number of things, most notably an aggressive recruitment campaign featuring a catchy slogan: “Start here, stay here, succeed here.” Other attempts to attract more students included reopening the district’s alternative high school, “Horizon,” which a previous superintendent closed down. The continuing influx of new immigrants also has led to an increase in students.
Despite the increase of students and state financial aid, Hamtramck is also facing a deficit over the next five years, projected at $1.7 million “and rising” said Niczay.
“Costs keep rising,” he added.
If Highland Park were to collapse because of a lack of students, school officials here hope some students will register in Hamtramck. Each student represents about $7,000 in additional state financial aid.
Highland Park school officials say they hope to attract students by offering new school programs, such as digital arts.
Niczay said Hamtramck has federal stimulus money to tap into to purchase high-tech equipment, which he said will transform classrooms in the coming year.
“You won’t recognize classrooms,” Niczay said.