On Monday, his first day as Highland Park Schools emergency manager, Jack Martin met with parents at the city's Barber Focus School to brief them on some of his plans for the struggling school district.
Martin has broad powers to run the city's schools as he sees fit, including the ability to sell off district assets and renegotiate contracts. His appointment as the district's emergency manager came as the result of a negative assessment by a state financial review board that found Highland Park's school system was struggling with large deficits and a shrinking student population.
Martin told parents at the Monday meeting the Barber Focus School for children in grades K-8 will close this week and the school's 222 students will relocate to the Henry Ford Academy, the Detroit News reports.
During the event, Highland Park Schools Superintendent Edith Hightower also mentioned the district's plans to demolish three currently empty school buildings: Willard, Ferris and Midland.
According to Hightower, the district will also seek private investment to shore up its finances. She announced the establishment of alumni fund, headed by former Seattle Seahawk's defensive end J. Douglas "Doug" Hollie, that already has raised nearly $250,000, MLive reports.
While the investment may be welcome, parents and community groups are upset about the school closure and building demolition. Rainbow-PUSH Detroit announced on its Facebook page that it would hold a public meeting about the Barber School closing Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park.
"I think the announcement is a bit insensitive," said Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, the pastor of the church and president of Rainbow-PUSH Detroit and the Highland Park NAACP. "Switching schools is hard for children. It's hard adjusting to a new school in the middle of school season. This isn't moving around books around in a library or groceries around on a shelf. We should be delicate in our decision making when it involves children."
The local branches of Rainbow-PUSH and the NAACP are part of a new coalition of community groups, the Financial and Academic Reinvestment Commission, that opposes the emergency manager and is trying to develop alternative strategies to cope with the school district's financial debt.
State Sen. Ernest Johnson, another member of the coalition, said in a Monday interview with The Huffington Post that school closings were part of the problem that led to the Highland Park district's financial troubles.
"When you close schools ... you decimate the district from a population standpoint; there is a heavy erosion of the tax base," he said. Johnson added that weaker funding had in turn led to declining enrollment and more structural problems.
Highland Park School Board Secretary Robert Davis on Monday filed for a temporary restraining order before Ingham County Judge William Collete against the financial review team, Gov. Rick Snyder and state Superintendent Mike Flanagan for violating the open meetings act, the Detroit News reports.