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Local News

Friday, 30 November, 2007 10:55 PM

Livonia Public Schools makes internal changes after a slight decline in students

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

 

Livonia Public Schools serves residents of the city and also some portions of Westland. There are 17,000 students currently in the school district. That number is slightly lower than last year, due to the state’s struggling economy.

The district has had 1,500 graduates for the last few years from its three high schools – Churchill, Franklin and Stevenson. Meanwhile, only 1,000 new students are entering the first grade. That leaves the district with 500 less students.

Randy Liepa is the superintendent of Livonia Public Schools. Liepa got his master’s degree in education administration from Wayne State University. He obtained a Ph.D. in education administration from Michigan State University in 2001. The superintendent has held that position since 2003. However, he’s been working with the district since 1994.

“We will lose $3.6 million,” Liepa said of the enrollment decline. “There’s no way to reduce costs. We still need a principal. It’s a real challenge for districts.”

State budget cuts have affected the district significantly. “We had to reduce $30 million from our budget over the last seven years,” he said. Two years ago, the district closed seven of its schools. There was a small amount of teachers laid off, according to the superintendent. Most of them were through attrition.

The district receives $160 million in revenue from a variety of sources including property taxes, state aid and federal grants. About 44 percent of total revenue for Livonia Public Schools goes directly to teacher salaries, $71.6 million. If you include their health benefits, it accounts for 54 percent of the total budget for the district or $87.6 million. Other major expenditures for the district include retirement costs at just over $17 million and textbooks and supplies at over $4 million. These figures were listed in the budget for the 2006-07 school year.

Some of the schools within the district have been re-aligned. Originally, there was K-6 elementary schools, middle schools (grades seven and eight) and high schools (grades nine and above). Last year, the district took four of its elementary schools and turned them into upper elementary schools serving fifth and six grade students.

“A committee met for well over a year to best meet the educational needs of students.” Liepa said. “Novi has it. Pinckney. Thirty to 35 districts statewide have it.”

These modifications have allowed the district to bring back more foreign language and technology programs to the four schools. In the past, these teachers had to travel between multiple schools during a school day. Now, they will be able to teach at one school for the whole day.

Tougher graduation standards have forced the district to make changes. First, it has passed new graduation requirements for its high school students. Secondly, it is reviewing the content of certain classes to make sure they meet the state’s requirement. Third, the district is thinking of re-aligning the high school day.

The average student in a Livonia Public Schools high school would have six classes per day. Each class is typically one hour in length. Students will now have the option of adding a seventh class, Liepa said. “Starting in 2008, maybe take health or government class early. We’ll ask people to get to school themselves.” This applies to juniors and seniors only. Freshmen and sophomore students will not have the option.

The bus schedule will not change. Students who take six classes will not be affected. Those who decide to take seven classes will have to get their own transportation to and from school.

The last bond issue related to Livonia Public Schools to go to the city council was in 2000. Construction for a new field house was approved for all of the three Livonia high schools. However, the superintendent expects to see a bond issue coming in about two years. “Our buildings are 40 plus years old. They don’t have the same infrastructure as they used to,” he said.

Students in Livonia Public Schools have been scoring higher in most areas of the MEAP test over the last few years. “Generally, we see improvement,” Liepa said. “They either change the test or make modifications to the test. They may have changed standards. Steady improvement in most areas.”

The district uses MEAP test results to determine how it can improve instruction. Every school district has to meet certain state and federal requirements. If a student does excellent on the MEAP test in high school, they could be eligible for the merit award, which is a $4,000 scholarship to be used in college.

While comparing Livonia Public Schools’ 2005-06 MEAP test results with that of the neighboring Plymouth-Canton school district, results were mixed. Third-grade students in Livonia received an 86 percent composite score on the reading and writing MEAP test. Students in Plymouth-Canton scored 80 percent on the same test. Third-grade students at Plymouth-Canton schools scored a 94 percent on the mathematics MEAP test while students in Livonia scored a 93 percent. By the fourth-grade, students in both districts scored a 59 percent on the MEAP writing exam.

In the eighth-grade, Livonia students scored a 90 percent on the science MEAP test. Meanwhile, students at Plymouth-Canton scored an 89 percent on the same test. In the same grade, students at Livonia received a score of 77 percent on the mathematics MEAP exam while their counterparts at Plymouth-Canton got an 80 percent score.

Livonia’s students in the 11th grade scored a 60 percent on the mathematics MEAP test. In Plymouth-Canton, students in the same grade level received a 63 percent score on the exam. Students in Livonia received a composite score of 57 percent for the MEAP reading and writing exams. Their counterparts in Plymouth-Canton scored a 69 percent on the tests.

If students did poorly in one area of testing, the district would step in and make modifications to its curriculum. “We’d sit down and make a change. If state’s grading tough, maybe a textbook is out of date,” Liepa said.

The superintendent is proud of many things within the school district. “We have outstanding programs for students, strong community partnerships, the largest PTA in the state and a great staff.”

Liepa is constantly reviewing places where the district can improve. He is looking for better student achievement marks on tests such as the MEAP. The district recently purchased a new math improvement series. This will help students polish their math skills and get them prepared better for the state-mandated exam.

 

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