By Charles Sercombe
Once again, deciding who should be Newsmaker of the Year was a tough one.
Hamtramck is always rich in people, events and trends that make long-lasting impacts.
This year, without further ado, we announce our Newsmaker of the Year:
The Hamtramck Public School District.
Not only has the district climbed out of a $6.5 million budget deficit and turned that into an $8.1 million surplus in recent years, it has also expanded.
For many years the district had to shed buildings as it struggled to rebuild its student body count in the face of competition from a dozen or so charter school options available to parents and students.
But the tide turned.
More and more parents found out that charter schools, in many instances, had much less to offer and returned their kids back into the traditional public schooling system.
The district now has 3,326 students enrolled, up from 2,834 just four years ago.
The regrowth has happened so rapidly that the district found itself in the unique position of needing more classrooms. An opportunity came knocking when a local charter school closed and the building it was in became available.
It took skillful negotiations, but the school district managed to snag the building, which also happened to have historical significance to the community. The former Tau Beta building on Hanley once served Hamtramck’s rapidly expanding Polish immigrant community back in the 1920s.
At the Tau Beta Center, immigrants were taught how to assimilate into their new country.
Many old-timers have fond memories of the building.
This rebirth came under the guidance of Superintendent Tom Niczay and the School Board.
Asked how the district managed to make this dramatic turnaround, Niczay said it all had to do with sacrifice and determination.
“The turnaround is because of a supportive Board of Education who work together extremely well,” said Niczay. “Their decisions are based on what is best for the district as a whole.”
As for the financial comeback, Niczay was quick to credit the district’s chief financial officer, Sherry Lynem, and her staff.
Helping out, too, were school employees, including teachers, who all had to take a financial cut to see through the rough times.
“We were extremely happy to make up lost wages and unfreeze salary steps during the most recent contract negotiations,” Niczay said.
The district’s success story didn’t stop there in recent years. For the second year in a row the district enjoyed a partnership with the Detroit City Football Club, which experienced phenomenal fan attendance last year.
The soccer team leases Keyworth Stadium, which the district owns, and in turn it has pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovating the 1930s-era stadium.
Not only has the team attracted wild fan support, local businesses have also seen spillover from fans. Our local bars and restaurants have enjoyed upticks in business on game days, and there is reasonable suspicion to believe there has been an increase in investments locally from this fan interest.
The district also embraced the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, which aims to get kids more active in sports and health activities. The program was presented at Keyworth Stadium last July, and it was met with open arms here.
Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. was the former owner of the Buffalo Bills football team. He died a few years ago, but his wife, Mary, is carrying on the foundation’s mission.
She was on hand at the event and said her husband’s foundation is prepared to donate millions of dollars to local programs across the country that promote kids being more physically active.
Hamtramck school officials are hoping to partner up with the Wilson Foundation down the road.
The future for the school district is now looking brighter than ever before.