01/30/2012 06:24 pm ET

Highland Park Coalition Promises Opposition, Alternatives To Emergency Manager Takeover

A coalition of Highland Park residents and local civic leaders announced Monday morning the creation of a commission to oppose the takeover of the Highland Park school system by a state-appointed emergency manager.

The announcement comes on Highland Park Schools Emergency Manager Jack Martin's first official day on the job.

Martin was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder under Public Act 4, Michigan's emergency manager law that allows the state to take over financially struggling cities and school districts.

On Friday, Snyder declared a state of financial emergency in Highland Park Schools, based on a review board's report that found declining enrollment, deficits and unpaid bills.

But Highland Park residents say the problems facing the city's school district require solutions that go beyond an emergency manager's special powers to break contracts and sell assets.

Glenda McDonald, a local educator working with the newly-formed Financial and Academic Reinvestment Commission (FARC), said the district has already laid off staff and privatized some services.

"Schools closing in the middle of the year and declining enrollment have taken millions of dollars away in one fell swoop and the district has already undertaken many of the EM's functions," McDonald said in a release.

FARC will instead take a two-pronged approach to oppose the district's takeover, challenging Public Act 4 and working to encourage new investment and repopulation in Highland Park.

Starting Friday, FARC will hold a series of public meetings to gather information from the community and develop independent solutions to the school district's problems. Organizers said the meetings will be sponsored by state Sen. Bert Johnson's office, with close support from other community partners such as the Highland Park NAACP and Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Johnson said FARC would draft a "white paper report" for the governor, offering an alternative solution to Highland Park Schools' financial problems that does not rely on a emergency manager. He said the group hoped to bring businesses and philanthropic institutions into the process.

And Johnson hopes Highland Park's community response will be duplicated by other financially-troubled municipalities under threat of state takeover.

"When this works, people across the state in some of these other challenged areas will be able to pattern and model their responses after this," Johnson told HuffPost.

FARC is also opposed to Snyder's effort to create a new statewide educational district for the bottom 5 percent of Michigan schools called the Educational Achievement Authority.

Farc members say the EAA is not backed by the authority of the state legislature, and they fear an emergency manager would not keep Highland Park's schools out of the special district.