Poor communities in Michigan still paying the costs of Emergency Managers. One of them sold off the school playground equipment.


In April of 2012, control over Muskegon Heights schools was handed over to an un-elected Emergency Manager, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. By July, Emergency Manager Donald Weatherspoon had signed a contract to turn the entire public school system over to the for-profit charter school operator Mosaica. Two years later the district was still insolvent and having to borrow almost a quarter million dollars from the state to keep the lights on and the doors open. Mosaica tried new and innovative things like compulsory teacher humiliation activities. However, it was all to no avail and, just two years after they took over Muskegon Height Public Schools, they reneged on their contract and bailed, forcing Emergency Manager Weatherspoon to borrow even more money. A LOT more money, in fact: $1.4 million dollars.

Why did Mosaica bail? This may shock you but they couldn’t make a profit from educating children:

“To be brutally honest – they had to be brutally honest to themselves as well with us – in their model as a for profit company, their profit was not there,” Weatherspoon said. […]

In order to pay teachers, vendors and staff for the rest of this school year, Weatherspoon is asking the state for a $1.4 million loan. That loan would go to the original Muskegon Heights Public School district, which would then funnel the cash to the new charter district it authorizes, Muskegon Heights Public School Academy. […]

The money from the loan would cover expenses through June 30, 2014. It’s not clear yet where the district will get money to start the new school year or the estimated $650,000 it’ll need to finish repairs to its four school buildings. Weatherspoon says one of the buildings will likely be closed instead of being repaired because it’s expected to take about $400,000 to fix.

Finally, in 2016, the school district was returned to local control. However, things are still not good. In fact, the district is still dealing with the fallout from the state takeover of their schools. As it turns out, in an effort to find every last nickel and dime under the sofa cushions, the Emergency Managers sold off everything that wasn’t nailed down.

That includes the playground equipment. Apparently the Emergency Manager thought the kids could just do without things like swings, slides, and monkey bars to play on at recess:

The Martin Luther King Elementary Academy in Muskegon Heights is for second to sixth grade students. Those kids love to play at recess. The problems is for years they haven’t had anything to play on.

Several years ago the former Muskegon Heights School District couldn’t pay its bills. And a state emergency manager sold off district belongings including buildings and playground equipment.

“I was shocked, amazed and hurt,” said Vanessa Marble, MLK Elementary Principal. Marble wasn’t at the school when district belongings were auctioned off. She believes her students deserve more than the empty field they run around on during recess.

The school is beginning the process of building a playground behind the school. […]

School leaders at the Muskegon Heights Academy aren’t sure how to pay for new playground equipment. The district does have a small savings account that may cover some of the expense. School leaders are also searching for grants to make their dream a reality.

“These kids need an opportunity like all other kids to enjoy equipment,” said Marble. “Safe equipment in an environment that’s safe for them.”

This is our state’s collective shame. We literally have children going to elementary school that have no playground equipment to play on at recess because a state appointed overseer sold it all off to pay a for-profit corporation.

Only one school district or municipality still has an Emergency Manager (Highland Park schools.) All other cities and schools have either exited Emergency Management or are under consent agreements or Receivership-Transition Advisory Boards (details HERE.) However, these schools are still dealing with the predictable outcomes of Emergency Management. And, given the lack of investment in our public schools by the Republican legislators who control our state, that situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The day of funding schools using crowd sourcing efforts like GoFundMe drives appears to be at hand.