Saving Highland Park's Students
June 13, 2012
by Mike Brownfield
Director of Social Media
Office of Governor Rick Snyder
For years, the condition of the Highland Park public schools has been simply unacceptable. The good news is that under Michigan law, there are positive actions the state can take on behalf of the kids in Highland Park -- and Governor Snyder has taken that action as part of his broader plan to bring reform to Michigan's school system.
Take a look at the numbers to get a picture of the Highland Park School District's financial condition: According to the District's FY 2011 financial audit, the District's cumulative general fund deficit increased by 51.0%, from ($7,467,527) as of June 30, 2010 to ($11,251,484) as of June 30, 2011. Even with one of the highest foundation allowances in the state (one of the ways our schools receive funding), it can't afford to pay its loans or its creditors, let alone open the doors to its schools and pay for teachers and books. In fact, the legislature had to appropriate additional funds to make sure Highland Park students could get through the recent school year.
The emergency manager has found that in order to avoid any further increase in the deficit next school year (FY 2013), a 67.1% reduction in employment expenditures would be required. If the reduction were to occur solely through salary reductions, the average salary of a teacher in the District would fall by $40,200 to $19,800 in FY 2013, but the projected deficit of ($16,206,005) million would remain unresolved.
Here are the facts on the District's academic performance: The city's high school is on the state's "Persistently Lowest Achieving" list, all three of the city's schools are in the Bottom 10 percent on the state's Top to Bottom List (with the high school in the bottom 1 percent), and state MEAP scores for the district are woefully low, ranging from the highest of 35 percent proficient in sixth grade reading to 0 percent proficient in fifth grade science, eighth grade math, eighth grade science, and ninth grade social studies.
Just acknowledging the problem, though, is not a solution. That's why the Michigan legislature quickly passed law that gave Governor Snyder the tools he needed to take action on behalf of students. Under that law, the governor appointed Joyce Parker to serve as emergency manager, assume the responsibilities of the Highland Park School District, and find a way to make sure that the children there receive an education. It's worth pointing out that this transition began in February of this year, and Parker, who was appointed in May, already is in the process of totally restructuring the District, both financially and academically.
Here's how Parker's plan will work. Parker will seek a charter school operator to run the school buildings in Highland Park. This will create a fresh start for the children of Highland Park, and it will all be in compliance with state law.
There's even more good news. The money from the State of Michigan will follow the students to the new public school academy. A new school board -- made up of members of the community -- will oversee the new schools' operations. Meanwhile, local non-homestead taxes (such as business taxes) will be used to repay the District's debt. The students and their schools will receive a full foundation allowance from the state, and the fiscal crisis will be averted -- all while providing a better education for Highland Park's children.
All children in Michigan deserve a high-quality education. Thanks to the work of the emergency manager, students in Highland Park will have that opportunity.