Highland Park Schools Keep Doors Open Despite Financial Setbacks
Highland Park Schools teachers appeared to be working without pay Monday, as classes continued as usual in the district.
Only $40,000 remained in the school's account last week, and teachers faced a payless payday Friday, as administrators and state legislators in Lansing scrambled for a plan to keep kids in class without fronting the district any more money.
But Superintendent Edith Hightower said the district had decided to keep the schools open to keep educating kids.
"Our teachers are committed to teaching. This was just a temporary glitch," she said. "Why wouldn't they come in?"
Hightower said the school board is still in talks with the Michigan Department of Education over the future of the district.
"I would hope they wouldn't change anything until the end of the year," she said.
The state of Michigan had been helping fund the cash-strapped district with loans, but that changed last week when a court ruling temporarily removed Highland Park Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin from office.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette ruled Feb. 15 that the financial review board that recommended Martin's appointment had violated Michigan's Open Meeting Act and needed to restart the appointment process. The decision returned control of the district to the school board until at least the end of this week.
Representatives from the Michigan Department of Education and the Governor's office affirmed the board still controls the district.
Because the district does not have enough money to meet its payroll and opearting costs, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law Friday authorizing $4 million in emergency state funds to students of the district, but that money cannot be used by the current school board.
The law gives the school board the option of handing over control of Highland Park Schools to another district or a charter operator. It also allows individual students to take their $4,000 in individual funding to another school if they transfer out of the district.
"This is uncharted territory, but the situation is drastic," said Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder.
The state is still in a seven-day waiting period before a new emergency manager can be appointed to run the district. Wurfel said the governor is considering re-appointing Jack Martin "so that there is as little disruption as possible."
Even if Snyder does put Martin back in control of the district, there is no guarantee he will stay there. Opponents of Public Act 4, the law governing emergency managers, announced they would soon deliver signatures for a petition to freeze the law. If successful, the effort would temporarily suspend the law until a statewide referendum vote in November, leaving the future of Highland Park Schools -- and other five other municipal bodies currently under emergency management -- uncertain.