Highland Park schools

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The Michigan Supreme Court has refused to hear a case that alleges the state and the struggling Highland Park school district are failing in their legal obligation to adequately educate students.

The so-called “right-to-read” lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

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Tuesday marks the first time the city of Highland Park will not offer high school classes.

The district’s emergency manager Don Weatherspoon closed the city’s only high school due to low enrollment.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager of the Highland Park schools organized a community forum which turned out to be a carnival of surrounding schools. They set up tables and handed out flyers, trying to entice Highland Park’s students. That’s  because the charter school operating the district is closing the high school.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Parents and students in Highland Park will get a chance to hear what options they have for next year now that the high school is closing.

A couple weeks ago, the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Parks schools announced the district would be a K-8 district only. He says there are just too few students to make it feasible.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Leona Group has agreed to run the Highland Park school district for less money, and shorten its contract. The revised contract runs only through the end of next school year, one year short of the original five-year deal.

A state-appointed emergency manager decided last week Highland Park couldn’t afford to offer high school next year. Still, the charter school company that’s operated the Highland Park school district for the last three years says it’s committed to the community.

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Highland Park schools can’t afford to offer high school next year, only grades K-8.

There are about 160 kids at Highland Park High school now. That’s only a third of the number of students there three years ago. That’s when district finances got so bad an emergency manager was appointed.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

New emergency managers have been picked to run the Highland Park and Muskegon Heights school districts.   

Steve Schiller will take over as emergency manager at Muskegon Heights, where he worked as a teacher and administrator for 30 years. During the last few years, he’s worked as a consultant for other emergency managers.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Last month the ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of eight Highland Park students was thrown out by the Michigan Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision.

The suit says the schools didn’t provide students with even basic literacy or math skills, and that therefore the state and the district should be held responsible for that failure.

But the court of appeals tossed the suit, basically because of three points.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Three of the five school districts that face more scrutiny from Michigan’s Department of Treasury have reduced their general fund deficits last school year. That’s according to independent audits recently filed to the state. But some still face serious, ongoing problems. Here’s a breakdown of how the districts ended the 2013-14 school year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Despite a previous state takeover, a slew of surprise costs and a dramatic drop in student enrollment have led to a new budget deficit for the public school district in Highland Park.

A multi-million dollar deficit prompted a state takeover of Highland Park Public Schools in 2012. The state appointed emergency manager restructured the district’s deficit into long-term debt with over $7 million in emergency loans from the state.

The manager created a new charter school district to educate students. In 2012  The Leona Group LLC., a charter company,was hired to run the entire district for an annual fee of $780,000.

But now the district is running a deficit again.

City of Highland Park

Gov. Rick Snyder has confirmed his decision that Highland Park faces a financial emergency.

The small city located within Detroit’s borders is no stranger to financial troubles.

The Michigan Department of Treasury first reviewed Highland Park’s finances in 1996. From 2001 through 2009, it had an emergency financial manager.

The former emergency manager of two Michigan school districts is moving onto help Pontiac schools.

Donald Weatherspoon was the emergency manager of the Highland Park and Muskegon Heights schools.

Now, he’s a consent agreement consultant for the Pontiac schools. The Pontiac school board chose to enter a consent agreement after a state review found the district was in "fiscal stress."

Courtesy Paul Lee

There has been public outrage ever since a collection of African-American history materials were found in a dumpster outside Highland Park's high school. The ACLU of Michigan was one of the first to report the incident.

Courtesy Paul Lee

There has been a firestorm of protest in Highland Park after the discovery that a large collection of history books, film and tapes from the city's high school was tossed in the trash.

Some 50 protestors gathered outside the high school in Highland Park, a member of the school board quit, and several people climbed into dumpsters to retrieve what they could.

The protests focused not only on the discarded books but on the way Highland Park's emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon is running the district.

One of those people who searched through the dumpsters to retrieve as many books as possible is Paul Lee. He is a Highland Park resident and an historian who helped build the collection of black history books, videos and movies.

Here is a video he shot while looking through the dumpster:

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“Right-to-read” suit continues

A Wayne County judge is allowing a suit against the Highland Park school district to proceed.  “The suite says the district failed to comply with a state law that requires remedial assistance for students not reading at grade level in the fourth and seventh grades,” reports Michigan Radio’s Lindsay Hall.  The “right-to-read” suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union last year.

Duggan supporters consider write-in campaign

Mike Duggan will announce his next steps today in the Detroit Mayoral race.  Michigan Radio’s Sara Cwiek reports that Duggan’s supporters are preparing a write-in campaign for him.  Duggan was ousted from the race last week when courts decided he was ineligible after filing his paperwork outside of the approved dates.    

Detroit City Council President ousted

Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh has been relieved of duty.  Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr stripped him of his salary and authority after he failed to turn up for a final deadline Wednesday evening.  Michigan Radio's Julia Field reports that Pugh is also under scrutiny after allegations surfaced of an inappropriate relationship with a high school student.

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) - The state-appointed emergency manager for Highland Park's public schools has revoked diplomas awarded last year to 18 students.

MLive reported Friday that a review of transcripts determined the students were given credit for failed classes or didn't have enough credit hours to graduate.

Emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon says the students in the academically and financially struggling Detroit area district were "misled" by school officials.

Weatherspoon also is manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools in West Michigan.

Michigan Court of Appeals
Mike Russell / Wikimedia Commons

Union activist and Highland Park school board member Robert Davis has been actively fighting emergency manager appointments in the state.

He's had some success arguing that the state's financial review teams must meet in public, but he's lost a recent round.

More from MPRN's Rick Pluta:

The Michigan Court of Appeals has dismissed a legal challenge to the state takeover of the Highland Park school district. Union activist and school board member Robert Davis claimed the takeover violated the Headlee Amendment to the State Constitution. The Court of Appeals said another court panel had already ruled against Davis on the same set of facts.

Davis was indicted last spring for theft.  Federal authorities say Davis sent fake bills to the Highland Park school district and pocketed more than $125,000. Davis says he's been fighting these accusations for years and says the indictment was based on information supplied by his "political enemies."

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Some students, parents, and education advocates from Detroit and Highland Park will testify at a federal hearing in Washington this week.

They are part of a nationwide group speaking out against changes in Detroit and other poor school districts.

The group alleges that some of the measures, particularly closing neighborhood schools, have “sabotaged and destabilized” education for many children.

Helen Moore is with the Detroit-based group Keep the Vote-No Takeover.

She said the group wasn’t getting far fighting these measures at the local level.

The recession has made it harder for local governments and school districts to balance their budgets. This summer the governor signed a new law creating a board that will help those hardest hit cope with short term cash flow problems.

Earlier this month the emergency financial managers of both Muskegon Heights Public Schools and Highland Park schools got emergency loans to pay off other state loans. MHPS borrowed $7.65 million while Highland Park schools borrowed $4.4 million.

“It’s not a handout; it’s a loan in order to help get people on their feet, in order to make the changes that are necessary going forward,” said Caleb Buhs, a spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Treasury. The school districts have 30 years to pay the state back.

Joyce Parker

The Highland Park School District in Wayne County faces major financial problems. Emergency Manager Joyce Parker has selected a charter school provider, The Leona Group LLC, to operate the district’s schools starting this fall.

The decision to turn the district over to a charter operator is not without controversy. Parker says she considered several options, such as consolidating the school district with other districts and even bankruptcy.

Parker says the district is no longer eligible for state funding and adds she needed to make sure students were able to start classes in September.

“The charter district system is one that would allow financial resources in the form of state aid to come into the new system to support educating the students.”

The Leona Group, L.L.C.

Highland Park Public Schools contracted the Leona Group to run its charter system next year.

A press release issued by the school system's Emergency Manager, Joyce Parker, said that she met with the newly appointed board of education today who approved the Leona Group, LLC contract as charter operator unanimously.

From the release:

user ppdigital / MorgueFile.com

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing on behalf of more than 950 Highland Park Public Schools students and their parents, claiming children aren't receiving an adequate reading education.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss told reporters at a news conference Thursday the lawsuit is about the "right of children to read."

The suit against the state and others seeks class-action status.

Another Michigan school district in deep financial trouble will be turned over to a charter operator for the coming school year.

The emergency manager of the Highland Park Public Schools announced the plan Monday.

Joyce Parker says the district  will likely start the next school year with a roughly $15 million deficit, and only about 800 students.

There's some job switching going on today in Michigan as Highland Park Schools emergency manager Jack Martin got the nod to become the new chief financial officer for the City of Detroit.

The CFO position was created as part of the city's consent agreement with the state. Jack Martin has been the EM at Highland Park Schools since last February.

Martin is a certified public accountant and was the CFO for the U.S. Department of Education from January 2002 through December 2005.

Martin's move to Detroit left the EM position at Highland Park Schools open which will now be filled by Joyce Parker. She's the current emergency manager for the city of Ecorse. She'll continue on in that role part-time, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Highland Park School Board member and union activist Robert Davis was indicted last month on charges of theft by federal prosecutors.

They accused Davis of stealing more than $125,000 from the ailing Highland Park school district.

Today, more details emerged from the indictment.

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports on "newly unsealed federal court records" the paper obtained.

The records allege Davis controlled a bogus nonprofit group, "Citizens United to Save Highland Park Schools." The feds say Davis used the group's bank account for "an $84,000 spending spree at car dealerships, hotels, bars, restaurants and a custom-clothing store."

From The Detroit News:

The financial information was included in an FBI search warrant affidavit requesting permission to raid Davis' home in Highland Park last year.

The affidavit does not specify which car dealerships were patronized. But Davis paid a St. Clair Shores dealership $21,450 for a used silver Mercedes-Benz CLK320 coupe in May 2009, according to the Secretary of State.

That's at the height of the time Davis was stealing money from the school district, according to federal prosecutors.

The sixteen-count indictment says Davis stole the school district's money between 2004 and 2010. If convicted, he faces the possibility of 10 years in prison on each of the counts of the indictment.

Davis made headlines before the indictment was made public by successfully winning a court battle against the state's financial review teams for violating the Open Meetings Act.

Davis has maintained his innocence and his lawyer did not offer a comment on the newly unsealed records, telling the News he had not seen them yet.

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"Opening Day" for Detroit

In a media roundtable in Detroit yesterday, State Treasurer Andy Dillon compared the day after Detroit City Council approved a consent agreement with the state with the home opener for the Detroit Tigers taking place nearby, "This is opening day in more ways than one for the city of Detroit," he said.

The next order of business for the city is to fill new positions called for the in the consent agreement. From the Detroit Free Press:

Mayor Dave Bing now has six days to create the positions of the city's chief financial officer and program management director and 30 days after that to hire the people for the positions... At the same time the state and city are compiling the list for the two top positions, they'll be developing a file of candidates to fill the nine-member financial advisory board, a team of people also with financial backgrounds, who will wield significant power as the city tries to right its finances.

Mayor Bing suffering from two "acute pulmonary embolisms"

Bing returned to the hospital on Wednesday. Yesterday afternoon his office released a statement saying the Mayor was diagnosed with acute pulmonary embolisms in both lungs. A condition that could be life threatening, but his doctor at Henry Ford Hospital said he's recuperating well. Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis has been acting on the Mayor's behalf. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported that Lewis said Mayor Bing "is alert and very involved in the ongoing process to implement the city’s new deal with the state."

“I’m just standing in his shoes right now, until he recovers. But Mayor Dave Bing is clearly the mayor and will be the mayor,” Lewis told reporters Thursday.

Highland Park School Board member calls charges against him "quite suspicious"

Highland Park School Board member and union activist Robert Davis was indicted yesterday on charges of theft by federal prosecutors. They've accused Davis of stealing more than $125,000 from the ailing school district.

Davis successfully won a court battle against the state's financial review teams for violating the Open Meetings Act. At a news conference held last night in his attorney's office, Davis called the timing of the indictment "quite suspicious."

More from the Detroit News:

"It's important for people to know that for the last two years I've been dealing with this particular issue as a result of my political enemies taking this false information to the FBI and to federal authorities," Davis said...

User Gini / Flickr

The Highland Park school board member who filed the Open Meetings Act lawsuits against the state's financial review process for Detroit, has been indicted for theft. The U-S Attorney’s office says Robert Davis sent fake bills to the district and stole thousands of dollars.

Davis faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. Authorities say between 2004 and 2010, he stole more than $125,000 from the Highland Park School District by using cover companies to submit fake invoices to the district.

A state appointed team that will decide if the Muskegon Heights school district needs an emergency manager really gets to work Wednesday. It’s the first time the team has met in Muskegon.

The governor appointed the review team in January. But because of legal challenges in the Highland Park school district, the team’s work has been delayed until now.

The Detroit school district has stepped in to help make sure the Highland Park public schools stay open for the rest of the school year.

But there are still plenty of questions about what happens after that.

The state had to advance Highland Park money last week, or the district would have gone broke.

And the state did—but with the provision that the money couldn’t go to the Highland Park school district, per se.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The cash-strapped Highland Park schools will get help so schools in the district can remain open until the end of the school year, the Michigan Department of Treasury announced today. Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek is covering this story and will have an update later.

From a press release sent by Michigan's Treasury Department:

Highland Park Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, and State Treasurer Andy Dillon today signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that provides temporary assistance and support to Highland Park Schools from Detroit Public Schools. The MOA, which will be in place for the remainder of the 2011- 2012 school year, allows current Highland Park students to remain in their current classrooms with their current teachers, if they so choose, despite the district’s financial crisis.

Plans to reform the finances at Highland Park schools hit a snag when a judge ruled the state violated the open meetings act when a state financial review team appointed emergency manager Jack Martin to oversee the school system.

Martin was temporarily taken off his post and re-appointed to his post by Governor Snyder this morning.

In the press release, Martin said their goal is to "ensure that students face as little disruption as possible." He thanked DPS emergency manager Roy Roberts:

“I want to thank Mr. Roberts for his willingness to assist Highland Park Schools through such trying times. I would also like to thank the teachers and staff who have been in class and working all week despite not getting paid last Friday. They will be receiving paychecks later today.”

Detroit Public Schools, which has its own financial troubles, will receive "distressed district student transition grants" worth $4,000 per pupil.

State officials say Detroit Public Schools "will support personnel-related functions on behalf of Highland Park Schools."