muskegon

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Parents in the Muskegon Heights Public School district are just starting to get an idea of what to expect for their children this fall.

The district is having major financial problems and is under the control of a state appointed emergency manager, Donald Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said turning over the entire district to a charter school operator was his only option to keep school open this year.

Last week, the three-member school board (appointed by the Weatherspoon) hired Mosaica Education Inc. to operate the schools in Muskegon Heights.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The leader of a small, urban school district in western Michigan is completely privatizing the public school system there. The case may become an example for other school districts facing major financial problems.

The problems are academic and financial

The situation at Muskegon Heights Public Schools was dire. It ran $18,000 in the red each day school was open last year.

The emergency manager of the Muskegon Heights Public School district has signed a contract with a private company to run the district next year.

Mosaica Education is a for-profit charter operator that already runs six other charter schools in Michigan.

DETROIT (AP) - Teachers in three school districts run by the state are laid off with many not knowing if they'll have jobs when classes begin.

Charter operators have yet to be selected to run new systems in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park.

State-appointed emergency managers have shopped Muskegon Heights in West Michigan and Highland Park near Detroit to charter operators as part of plans to pull the cash-strapped districts from near-fiscal ruin.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools says he’s signed a contract with a charter operator that will practically run the whole school district next school year.

In a press release sent out this afternoon, Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon says he’ll review the signed contract during a public meeting on Monday. The statement doesn’t say which charter school company got the deal. Weatherspoon was not available to discuss the release.

biddergy.com

Students in Muskegon Heights Public Schools are still in limbo while the district's state-appointed emergency manager decides what charter school company will manage the system.

MHPS Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon told parents in May he planned to turn the entire system over to a charter operator this fall. He also said he wanted to have a contract signed June 13.

There’s still no contract in place. That means parents don’t know yet if their kids will get bussed to class, if the district will offer athletics, AP classes, or band next school year.

There something I’d like to ask the Emergency Managers of the school districts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park. Simply, are you sure you know what you are doing?  Have you thought this through, not only from the point of view of your district, but in regards to the future of education and the state of Michigan?

What I am referring to is the decisions by both superintendents to turn their entire districts over to charter school systems. In other words, to essentially privatize education.

Now, there is no doubt that Muskegon Heights is in bad shape financially.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit in a game of revenue-sharing chicken with the state

Detroit's top lawyer, Krystal Crittendon, is challenging the legality of the city's consent agreement with the state in court. State officials are threatening to withhold millions of dollars in state revenue sharing payments if the lawsuit is not dropped.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The teachers’ union at Muskegon Heights Public Schools has settled a lawsuit against the district. The union had alleged the district’s emergency manager was engaged in unfair labor practices.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency manager Don Weatherspoon says allowing a charter school operator to run the public school district is the only way he can afford to keep school open next year. The deficit is more than $12 million. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon heard from parents, alumni, teachers, and taxpayers during and after the meeting. He reassured parents a free neighborhood school will be open this fall.

But most had questions he couldn’t answer yet. Like, will there be band, art or athletics? Busing and special education services? Although he’d prefer it, Don Weatherspoon says he cannot make any guarantees.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Tonight parents with students enrolled at Muskegon Heights Public Schools will get a chance to hear more about the new plan to turn the district's finances around.

The plan is to completely turn over operations to a charter school operator beginning this fall.

Muskegon Heights Public Schools is running a more than $12 million deficit.

The school board asked for a state appointed emergency manager after struggling for more than six years to close the budget gap.

Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon said the only way to do that is to have a charter operator run things so that he can worry about paying off the district's debts.

"I think the most important thing for both students and parents and the community is that they have a neighborhood school system," said Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said consolidating with neighboring school districts was not an option because of Muskegon Heights' huge deficit. And he said cutting salaries, even by as much as 30 percent, wouldn't have gotten the district into the black.

I'll attend tonight's meeting and will update this story.

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed Donald Weatherspoon to run the Muskegon Heights school district. The appointment is effective Monday, April 23rd. A link to the governor's press release is here.

Dr. Weatherspoon has spent the past 27 years working in the education community, both as a professor at Michigan State University and as a government executive, and currently serves on the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Today is the deadline for the Muskegon Heights school board to ask the governor for a hearing on his impending appointment of an emergency manager to the district. It appears unlikely the school board will request the hearing.

Last December the Muskegon Heights school board laid off its superintendent and asked the state for an emergency manager. Four months later, Governor Rick Snyder agreed a financial emergency does exist and the school board has no real plan to fix it.

Unless the school board requests a hearing today, the next step is for Snyder to appoint the manager. That could happen as soon as this week.

Muskegon Heights schools would become the third school district run by an emergency manger in Michigan. Four cities are run by emergency managers as well. The City of Detroit is working under the terms of a consent agreement instead of an emergency manager.

Governor Rick Snyder has determined a financial emergency exists in the Muskegon Heights school district. The next step is for the governor to appoint an emergency manager to the district.

“Ensuring a quality education for students in Muskegon Heights is our top priority,” Snyder said in a written release issued Tuesday afternoon.

“The appointment of an Emergency Manager is the logical next step  in restoring financial stability to the troubled district, and in fact, is a step that has been requested by members of the Muskegon Heights Board of Education,” Synder said. Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights asked for a state takeover back in December.

Muskegon Heights School Board

A review team is recommending Governor Rick Snyder appoint an emergency manager to run the Muskegon Heights Public School district.

Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights voted for a state takeover.

Muskegon Heights Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row.

The review team found:

Nancy Gallardo / Until Love Is Equal

The City of Muskegon seems likely to pass local laws protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment.

The state and federal government do not offer this protection, but almost 20 Michigan cities do.

Roberta King lives in Muskegon. She was "pleasantly surprised" no one opposed the local law when she asked city commission to consider it this week.

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.

This week people hoping to overturn Michigan's emergency manager law plan to turn in petition signatures to state officials. State appointed emergency managers have broad powers to run cities and school districts with major financial problems. 

Roughly 160,000 valid signatures are needed to put the emergency manager law on the November ballot. The group claims they’ve collected at least 200,000 signatures. If the state certifies them the law would be put on hold until the November election.

The school board in the Muskegon Heights school district requested an emergency manager.

Interim Superintendent Dave Sipka worries what would happen there if the law was suspended.

“If an emergency manager isn’t available to help out then you know there’s a strong possibility this district could go bankrupt," Sipka said. 

Muskegon Heights Public Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row.

A new plan to eliminate a running deficit at Muskegon Heights Public Schools would close schools and cut teacher pay by 40-percent. That means a teacher with a PhD and 20 years of experience would make around $40,000 a year. New teachers would make around $20,000.

But school leaders admit the plan is still unlikely to work.

Unions haven’t even voted on the concessions. But interim superintendent Dave Sipka had to submit the plan anyway to get the money the district needed from the state in order to make payroll.

Governor Snyder has appointed a team to review the Muskegon Heights School District's financial records. That puts the west Michigan school district a step closer to getting an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Heights school district asked for a state review of its finances back in December.

The preliminary review found the school district was in ‘probable financial stress’, due to the district’s $8.5 million deficit.

That set the stage for the governor to appoint a state review team to scour the school district’s books. 

If an emergency manager is eventually appointed in Muskegon Heights schools, it will join school districts in Detroit and Highland Park. Emergency managers are also running things in four Michigan cities.

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