Ann Arbor Public Schools

In case you've been living under a rock the last couple of months, many Michigan schools are in financial crisis.

It's not just separate outbreaks. It's an epidemic. Buena Vista had to shut down for two weeks when they ran out of money to pay staff. Albion is closing its high school.

About 50 districts are on the state's financial watch list (as in, watch-out-these-guys-could-go-under).

Now, Ann Arbor, the artsy cosmopolitan Disney Land of public school systems, is feeling woozy.

user: jdurham / morguefile

This fall, 32 new charter schools are scheduled to open in Michigan.

To check out where these schools will be located, look at this Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) link.

According to MAPSA, there are currently 232 charter public schools in Michigan with over 100,000 enrolled students.

This year, there number of charter schools opening is due in part to a controversial law that lifted restrictions on charter schools.

More from MAPSA:

Michigan law allows new public schools to be chartered by state universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts and local school districts.

“Michigan’s system of charter school authorizing and oversight is considered a model around the country, and as we look at the new schools opening this year, we can see why that is,” [MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry] said. “Once again, the authorizers have done an excellent job of making sure that only the best, most promising schools will be allowed to open. You’ll notice that we aren’t seeing the supposed ‘flood’ of new charter schools that some critics feared. The authorizers aren't going to charter any new school that doesn’t offer a high-quality, innovative approach.”

All this week, we've been digging into the causes, and perhaps solutions, to the financial troubles facing our schools. As Michigan Radio has been reporting, some 50 public school districts across our state are facing deep deficits. And, for the first time in Ann Arbor history, the school district may have to lay off 50 teachers.

Today we focused on teacher salaries. Just what should determine teacher pay in Michigan?

And, Daniel Howes talked with us about the business community in Detroit.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

As the 2012-2013 school year winds down, one of the issues occupying the attention of state lawmakers is teacher pay. In essence: what should determine teacher salaries in Michigan?

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers' pay to student performance. But, as Michigan Public Radio's Jake Neher told us, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they're worried the bill would strip away local control.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

A state House panel has approved a plan to tie teachers’ pay to student performance. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’re worried the bill would strip away local control.

Bill supporters say just because someone has been teaching for a long time, that doesn’t mean they’re a great teacher. They say educators should be paid more if their students are making progress, and less if they’re not.

Here's a question that colleges and universities across the country are grappling with: how does "liberal arts" fit into our futures?

We hear more and more talk about stem courses and careers: science, technology, engineering and math.

There's lots of talk about the fact that the U.S. needs people with these degrees to compete in a global economy.

So what will it take for liberal arts programs to matter to students who want to graduate with degrees that will secure a job that pays?

Those are some of the questions being tackled this week at a major conversation involving more than 50 deans at large research universities around the country coming to the University of Michigan for an unprecedented national conversation.

The focus -"The Liberal Arts and Sciences in the Research University Today: Histories, Challenges, Futures."

The Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan, Dean Terrence McDonald was kind enough to join us in the studio.

Listen to the full interview above.

49 schools districts in Michigan are in the red. Albion is not one of them. To avoid the red numbers, the district cut their high school.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista School District reopened on Monday after closing for two weeks due to a financial crisis. 

Of the 400 students that attended the school district before the closure, 77.5 percent have returned, according to Lindsay Knake at MLive:

Superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill said the there are 339 students back in school this week, including 151 students at Doerr Child Development Center, 97 students at Phoenix Science & Technology Center and 91 students at the high school.

"We have to keep working to receive high school students back," she said. 

The high school had about 160 students prior to the school closings, and is missing 40 to 50 students including the 25 graduating seniors, Hunter-Harvill said. There are 29 students missing at Doerr and 10 missing at Phoenix.

"Come back to us," Hunter-Harvill asked students at a community meeting on Tuesday, May 21. "Believe in us."

Knake also reports that five employees who were laid off were recalled:

For the first time in two weeks, teachers are back in the business of teaching and students are back in the business of learning in the Buena Vista school district near Saginaw.

That's after the district had to close school doors because it couldn't meet payroll. On today's show: just how bad are finances for school districts across the state? Could your district be next?

Michelle Richard, a senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants in Lansing, and Eric Scorsone, an economist at Michigan State University, talked with us about Michigan school finances and whether consolidation is a viable solution.

And, Buena Vista’s high school men’s basketball coach spoke about how the school is doing now that it has reopened.


In the Buena Vista school district, teachers are back in the business of teaching and students are back in the business of learning for the first time in two weeks.

It has been two weeks since the Buena Vista school board laid off all but three staff members and closed down the schools, because there was just no money to keep things running.

It took a new deficit-elimination plan and the state releasing three months of state aid that had been withheld to recoup funding for a program for incarcerated youth. The district had stopped running the program, but had not notified Lansing.

It's convoluted and confusing, but in all of these news stories and headlines there is one crystal-clear reality: students are suffering.

So are their teachers, who actually offered to work without pay.

Students and teachers in the Buena Vista School District are back in the classroom today.

After a two-week closure of the Saginaw County district, all three schools in the district opened their doors Monday morning. To make up for lost instruction time, the school year will now end on June 21, instead of the scheduled June 13, MLive reported.

The district shut down after the state pulled some $400,000 in misappropriated funding.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Bake sales, magazine subscriptions and car washes ... it seems school systems are perennially low on money.

But with one Michigan school system closing its doors before the school year ends, others consolidating to save money, and still another giving up on its high school; Michigan schools seem to be in an especially bad spot.

Blame gets spread around.

It's the economy - mismanagement - declining enrollment - excessive funding cuts - high retiree costs - or cumbersome union contracts.

Pick whatever reason you like best, it doesn't change the fact that many Michigan schools are in trouble.

The State's Deputy Superintendent of Schools wrote this in a recent memo to local school officials:

"... we have seen a marked increase in the number of districts that have experienced a deficit fund balance. The magnitude of some of these districts seems almost insurmountable."

Let's give it a little perspective.

Over the last decade, here are the number of schools that ran a deficit in a given school year.

Michigan had 742 school districts in 2002-2003. Today, the state has 805 districts.

Of the 805 districts today, as the chart shows, 49 are running deficits.

Here are the fifteen schools in Michigan with the biggest projected budget deficits as a percentage of their expected overall revenue. It should be noted that these numbers could change as the school year advances.

Aaron Alexander / Flickr

In May's segment of The Living Room, Allison Downey tells the story of a high school dance she went to that ended a little differently than she expected. 

The Living Room is a monthly series produced by Zak Rosen and Allison Downey. 

In today's segment, we hear Allison's song 'All that Matters.'

It was produced & engineered by Michael Crittenden at Mackinaw Harvest Studios in Grand Rapids

John Austin: Electric bass

Rod Capps: Lead guitar

Brian Morril: Percussion

Annie Capps: Harmony vocals

Allison: Lead vocals and rhythm guitar

To hear the story, click the link above.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Flint School District is planning over one hundred layoffs, the Flint Journal reported.

139 teachers and faculty in Flint will receive pink slips, with the staff cuts going into effect the day after school gets out on June 10.

While the interim superintendent emphasized the possible rehiring of many of these teachers at the end of June, the school district’s deficit reduction plan calls for firing 150 teachers over the next three years.

The Flint School District has three years to chop away at a $15.6-million deficit. If the deficit isn’t eliminated by their 2015 deadline, the district could lose state funding.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

A public school in Michigan closing before the year ends isn't just a state story.

The Washington Post picked up on the troubles of the Buena Vista school district in a piece by Lyndsey Layton today.

Layton looks at how often these kinds of closings happen around the country:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Students at Saginaw County's Buena Vista school district may be back in the classroom soon. The state has approved the district's plan to bring itself out of debt.

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan has approved the release of state aid funds to the Buena Vista school district.

The district hasn't held class since May 3 because it ran out of money to pay its teachers. Last night the Buena Vista board of education approved a deficit elimination plan.

Flanagan says he is now encouraging the local school board and administration to reopen the doors as soon as possible. The state will release state aid to Buena Vista on May 20th, allowing the district to make payroll on May 24th.

The aid will put an end to any discussion of a “Plan B” that was developed earlier this week to have Buena Vista students use federal money to attend a skills camp over the summer.

The schools will be open today for those students who qualify for free meals.

DPS emergency financial manager Roy Roberts says without Proposal S, the district would be severely crippled.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts was supposed to leave his post tomorrow. 

Today, he announced he will stay on the job for another six months.

In a letter to the staff at Detroit Public Schools, Roberts said Gov. Rick Snyder agreed to extend his contract.

Many of you are probably asking yourselves why I requested this contract extension. My answer is really quite simple, and is the reason I took this job in the first place – it’s about educating the children of Detroit.

DPS is on a good trajectory, with improved test scores and graduation rates, a balanced budget, and a solid
strategic plan, developed by all of us, that focuses on neighborhood-centered, quality schools. I want to do everything I can to ensure that we complete this school year in keeping with this trajectory – and help begin the preparation for an even more successful 2013-14 academic and fiscal year.

The Detroit News reports that Roberts will work on a budget for the coming school year for the district "which educates about 53,000 students and grapples with a graduation rate of less than 70 percent."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Albion School Board voted last night to close the district’s high school.

Beginning this fall, the mid-Michigan district will only serve students in grades K through eight.

Some students cried.  Others just shook their heads, after the school board voted 5 to 1, with one abstention, to close Albion High School.

School board members said repeatedly they didn’t want to close the school, but a projected million dollar budget deficit could not be ignored.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Battle Creek State Senator Mike Nofs says he doesn’t think higher than expected revenue in the school aid fund should be used to bail out struggling school districts.

Nofs says at today’s revenue estimating conference, state officials will announce the school aid fund has nearly $100 million more than predicted.

Nofs expects there will be push to use that money to help the struggling Pontiac and Buena Vista school districts. But he says that’s not a good idea.

Sarah Alvarez / Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista School District unceremoniously shut down ten days ago, sending staff and students home for the year after the district ran out of money.

At Tuesday night’s emergency school board meeting there was almost universal confusion about what happens next. 

The school board unanimously approved a deficit elimination plan they hope will allow state aid payments to start up again so students can get back in the classroom. 

If that doesn't work, the board grudgingly approved a plan for a summer "skills building camp," in lieu of traditional classroom time.

Nobody at the meeting seemed very happy about that option.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

An entire school district closing before the school year ends is a bit of a black eye for public education in Michigan.

Just on perception alone, you would think politicians and administrators would jump to fix the problem. Instead, as Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett pointed out, many just put up their hands.

Now, some news of movement.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Buena Vista school district will try to run summer camps to help students affected by the sudden cancelation of classes for the balance of the school year.

That's one of the decisions today from a meeting of state and local education officials.

The shut-down will not stop eligible seniors from graduating, or other students from advancing to the next grade. The district in Saginaw County will try to run four- to six-week camps over the summer break to help students make up what they missed, and prepare for the coming school year.

The money for those camps will not come from the state, but from federal funds.

The Buena Vista district abruptly ceased operations earlier this month. That was after the state cut off aid payments because of debts owed by the district.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

This past Thursday, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the State of Michigan can proceed with Public Act 53, a law prohibiting school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks.

The 2-1 ruling overturned a Detroit federal court preliminary injunction that ruled in favor of the unions. In June of 2012, U.S. District Judge Denise Page Hood issued the preliminary injunction against Public Act 53.

With the new ruling, public schools are no longer required to deduct the union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other school employees.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Thursday's opinion read: “The act merely directs one kind of public employer to use its resources for its core mission, rather than the collection of union dues.” 

State signs plan to help ailing Pontiac schools

May 11, 2013 / Pontiac School District

Michigan's top education official has signed off on a plan to help the beleaguered Pontiac School District.

Kalkaska schools

No doubt, public schools in Michigan are struggling.

Around 400 students in the Buena Vista school district in Saginaw have been shut out after the district announced they couldn't make payroll.

And it was revealed yesterday that Pontiac schools are close to running out of money and might have to close their doors early.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A Saginaw area school district that's closed its doors has now asked the state to review its finances.

That's the first step toward a state appointed emergency manager.

But the move does not guarantee the District's 400 students will be back in class anytime soon.

The Buena Vista school board heard from parents and students last night, angry about the abrupt and apparent early end of the school year.

“If we don’t get these kids back in school…we’re going to be the ones who destroyed their lives,” one upset father told the school board. 

Christopher Webb / Flickr

It’s day four of no school for Saginaw-based Buena Vista School District, as the district prepares to declare a financial emergency.

As Mark Brush reported on Tuesday, the school district canceled classes earlier this week after teachers were laid off. The layoffs come after the district of about 450 students learned the state was withholding funding for April, May and June.

On today's program, we explore the idea of secret work groups crafting public policy in Lansing, and how transparent Michigan's government should be.

And we look at whether expanding the lottery to the internet is a good idea.

We'll also hear how new technology being developed here in Michigan might be able to help authorities identify potential threats in airports or in large crowds.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

Seven Michigan high schools received "gold medals" from the U.S. News Best High Schools 2013 rankings. 68 high schools received "silver medals," and 131 received "bronze medals."

Here's their top ten:

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The financial storm has been brewing at the Buena Vista School District outside of Saginaw for some time, but it came to a head today.

The Buena Vista School District announced that the school is closed today and that teachers will be laid off.

A community meeting is expected to be held at 6 p.m tonight.

The District has faced declining enrollment at a time when public education funds are being cut in the state.