The School District of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan dates back to 1871 when the Legislature passed a local act creating the Board of Education of the City of Grand Rapids, the boundaries of which were made the same as the boundaries of the City of Grand Rapids. Prior to that time, the schools in the City of Grand Rapids did not constitute one single school district. Rather, the west side was known as the Union School District and there were one or more school districts on the east side of the Grand River, the boundaries of which were not necessarily the same as those of the City of Grand Rapids east of the River.
In the early days following 1871, the affairs of the public schools and the affairs of the City were to a great extent interwoven in that the budget adopted by the School Board had to be submitted to the City fathers for approval. In a number of respects, the affairs of the schools and the City were co-mingled to a much greater extent than they are today. When the City boundaries were expanded through local acts of the Legislature, it was also provided in such legislation that the school boundaries would expand to the same extent. Following the Constitution of 1908 when special and local acts were prohibited, general laws were passed allowing the expansion of the City through the annexation process until the 1920s when a codified school law became more and more pronounced. As a result of legislation adopted in 1962, the laws providing that the boundaries of the City and the school district be coterminous were repealed. Enlargement of the City since then has not resulted in the expansion of the boundaries of the school district.
In summary, the situation with regard to the public schools is quite a bit different today than it was 100 years ago. The City no longer has any control over the school budget, and it no longer has any control over the bonding powers or borrowing powers of the school district. Its basic responsibility today is to conduct the school elections and to collect the school tax after the school board has determined how much tax should be levied. The legislative trend has been to require the cities and the schools to go their separate ways.
School Board History
Until May 1906, the Board of Education was composed of twenty-five (25) members, two of whom were elected from each of the twelve wards of the City, with the Mayor serving as an ex-officio member. This election by ward procedure was responsible for the poor location of many schools in Grand Rapids as schools were located according to wards rather than according to the needs of the over-all city. Some examples of this policy still exist, such as the Straight and Lexington buildings, which are only five blocks apart. In May 1906, the membership of the Board was decreased to nine, all elected by the citizens of the city as at-large members for three-year terms.
The Board originally occupied space on the first floor of City Hall, but later was given the use of the entire fourth floor. This change was made prior to 1915. In addition to this space, some supervisors had their offices in the old North Division School at 234 North Division Avenue and in the old Junior College Building on Ransom Avenue. The maintenance department was located in the building formerly used as the Pleasant Street School located at 425 West Pleasant Street. On June 26, 1920, the Board moved all its offices from the City Hall, the North Division School and the East Junior College Building to the fifth floor of a new addition to the then George A Davis Vocational and Technical High School Building, which later became the West Junior College Building. The space was designed especially to receive these offices. One of the factors responsible for the construction of the administrative offices was that in 1927 the City Commission imposed a rental fee of $5,000 per year for the use of the space in City Hall, which prior to that time was rent free. The main factor for the construction, however, was the desirability and increased efficiency of having all administrative personnel at one location.
As indicated in the paragraphs under Legal History, the City Commission by Statute was required to approve the Board of Education budget. During this early history, it was the policy of the City Commission to approve the budget by approving or disapproving specific items in the budget, which actually made the City Commission the determining unit of government as to what was to be included in the school program and, in essence, the quality of education.
With the codification of School Law in the early 1920s, the school district boards of education were granted greater fiscal independence so that they made the final decision on the adoption of the school budget and certified the tax levy for collection by the City Treasurer. In the latter part of the 1920s, the school budget was submitted to a School Tax Advisory Board appointed by the Mayor, but this restriction was eliminated in 1943.
Administratively, the Board operated on the so-called dual system of control where the Superintendent of Schools and the Business Manager were each directly responsible to the Board. On February 5, 1937, the Chief Engineer was removed from the supervision of the Business Manager and was also made responsible directly to the Board of Education.
On March 2, 1959, the Superintendent of Schools was made the chief administrator and the only administrator directly responsible to the Board. At that time, the Business Manager, or Assistant Superintendent in Charge of Business Affairs, was made responsible to the Superintendent of Schools. The Chief Engineer was made responsible to the Assistant Superintendent in Charge of Business Affairs.