Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $4 million bill last week that will allow the students in the tiny Highland Park, Mich. school district to leave the struggling school system for surrounding jurisdictions or charter schools.
The school system, which has fewer than 1,000 students, has been in financial distress and leadership turmoil for months. Employees of the school district, on the northern border of Detroit, went through a “payless payday” this past Friday as the governor and local leaders figured out a way to keep the school system operating through the end of the year.
In late January, Snyder had appointed Jack Martin, the former chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Education and currenly a corporate lawyer, to serve as an emergency manager for the 970-student district, located on Detroit’s northern border.
However, the district’s school board challenged the appointment, and a judge concurred, saying that the decision to appoint an emergency manager in the district did not comply with state open meeting laws. Martin was asked to step down temporarily, and the district was unable to make its payroll without being under state control.
The leadership turmoil only underscored the district’s precarious future. According to an article in the Detroit News, enrollment has dwindled from 3,100 in 2006 to about 990 today. The district has a budget deficit of more than $11 million, the article said.
The governor’s office has created a webpage explaining the state’s position on the financial emergency in the district. In a recorded message he said was for the students of Highland Park schools, Snyder said that the district has been in financial straits for several years. “The situation we are currently in is not a good one. It’s not one you created, and it’s not fair,” he said. “We’re going to work hard to get you the best education possible.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.