Warning, Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder took the unprecedented step of sending a personal letter (pdf) to the parents of the Highland Park school system.
As a parent of a Highland Park School District (HPS) student, you are probably aware of the dire financial situation that exists in HPS. Over the past few weeks, together with the Departments of Treasury and Education and a review team, we have been attempting to work with your local school officials to address this situation.
There is absolutely no question that the finances of HPS have reached a crisis stage. During the 2010-11 school year, HPS was $3 million over budget. Again this year, HPS fail to make its budget. On January 13, the district was unable to make its payroll for teachers and staff. In order to keep the schools open, the state forwarded an emergency advance totaling $188,000.
Recognizing the crisis, I authorized an independent financial review team to examine the school district’s finances. Since the release of the findings of this review team, projections show that HPS is in jeopardy of closing next month without immediate action.
Unfortunately, the district has appealed these findings and delayed efforts of the state to help fix these financial problems. We are not confident that the district can finish the school year without further state intervention and additional assistance. I am concerned about the welfare of the students at HPS and their educational opportunities. I am not willing to take a chance with your children. They are our number one priority.
One of Michigan’s most pressing responsibilities is ensuring that students have every opportunity to learn and succeed. I am committed to doing just that.
Students in HPS need to know that their community is behind them, that the state is committed to actively helping them learn, and parents can be excited about their future.
Please contact my office with any questions directly at 517-335-7858. I welcome and desire your involvement and feedback.
Highland Park officials are indeed fighting back. They believe the state has made things more difficult for them and is not helping at all.
“The district does have a plan to alleviate the crisis — it’s called a Deficit Elimination Plan and it gives us targets to accomplish over a four-year period,” said Randy Lane, financial director for the district. He testified before state treasury officials and members of an independent review team, which determined a financial emergency exists at HPS.
“An emergency manager is not needed in Highland Park Schools,” Lane testified. “We have a competent staff that reflects the community that can solve problems.”
Lane said the state has been well aware of financial problems in the district dating to 2007, and district officials have reduced the budget by 48 percent since 2009.
But over the last year, Lane said the state chose to use “a heavy hand” with the district, pulling money back when enrollment came in lower than projected, denying a request to defer state aid to avoid cash shortages and losing federal dollars. Those actions created some of the district’s cash shortfalls, he argued.
“But no matter how hard we tried, the state decided not to work with us,” Lane said.
Governor Snyder’s letter is, in fact, a rather large load of hypocrisy. His claims that the school children of Michigan are his top priority are belied by the $1 billion in cuts to statewide school funding in his current budget, used to pay for a massive tax break for businesses. It’s one thing to be pro-business and have that be your top priority. It’s entirely another thing to lie about it.
School officials are justifiably outraged at Snyder’s letter.
District officials said the letter sends a deceptive message and could be taken as a warning to parents to get out of the district.
“If you were a parent this would be intended to scare you,” said Highland Park School Board Secretary Robert Davis. “This is unprecedented communication with the parents. Why wouldn’t you notify district officials?” [...]
Some parents said the letter did cause them to panic.
Snyder’s letter has one purpose: to get the parents of the Highland Park School District to tell school officials to back down and let the state come in to run their affairs. This situation is not primarily the result of mismanagement, it is the result of the fact that HPS student population has plummeted from around 3,000 to just over 1,000 in the past six years. Every student lost is money to the district lost and that is why they are struggling. Governor Snyder’s answer is to shove the elected officials aside to come in and run things their own way which will surely include outsourcing everything not nailed down and eviscerating the collective bargaining agreements of teachers and other school staff.
Can someone please alert the tea party? I think we have a Nanny State clean up in aisle two.
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