It’s time to act in best interests of Highland Park school students

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    rick-snyderEach child in the Highland Park School District has hopes and dreams, and possesses the talent to make them come true.

    But the foundation for success is a quality education, and it is painfully clear that the district is failing its students. That cannot – and will not – continue.

    The fiscal and management crises plaguing the district have caused it to spiral out of control. Despite repeated state bailouts, the record of Highland Park Public Schools does not give confidence that it is capable of effective management.

    Despite repeated state advances and bailouts, including a $4 million hardship loan in August 2011 and two advancements of state aid payments in the past month, the district is expected to run short of cash this week and may not be able to meet Friday’s payroll.

    The district’s cumulative deficit increased by 51 percent over the past fiscal year, growing from $6.6 million to $11.3 million. Expenditures exceeded revenues by $3.8 million in fiscal year 2011. In fact, the district has incurred an operating deficit in five of the last six fiscal years.

    This ongoing chaos and uncertainty takes an enormous toll on students, parents and hard-working teachers.  

    To help get the district on its feet, I accepted in January the recommendation of a financial review team and appointed an emergency manager to provide much-needed leadership for the schools. The appointment of an emergency manager to a troubled city or school is a last resort. In the case of Highland Park School District, it is apparent that a strong state partnership is needed.

    Unfortunately, recent litigation is further complicating the district’s financial emergency. Last weeks’ court ruling invalidated actions of the Highland Park Schools review team. To ensure that the state is in full compliance with the ruling and to exercise an abundance of caution, emergency manager Jack martin is temporarily standing down and decision-making responsibilities are returning to the superintendent and school board.

    Political maneuvering by opponents is limiting our options for rescuing Highland Park students. It diverts attention and resources from what should be our shared focus – the children.

    But our resolve to provide Highland Park students with a solid educational experience is as strong as ever. We will not quit on them.

    That’s why we are empowering Highland Park parents with educational options for their children. In partnership with the Legislature, we are pursuing solutions for parents who want their children to remain in their classrooms and buildings and for those who may want to send their kids elsewhere.

    To accommodate students who want to stay in the district, we are making arrangements that will allow Highland Park schools to remain open under an operating agreement with another district or charter operator. For Highland Park families wishing to explore other districts, I am urging the Legislature to immediately consider a bill that will offer “schools of choice” opportunities. The legislation will include a stipend that follows the student.

    We are launching a comprehensive informational campaign to ensure full, open communication with parents, teachers and community leaders. One vehicle for doing so will be a public meeting, details of which will be announced soon through letters and e-mails to parents. This open forum will give community residents the opportunity to get answers directly from state officials.

    Parents, policymakers, educators and community leaders must put their differences aside and focus on the one thing on which we should all agree – that the well-being of Highland Park school students needs to be our overriding priority.

    Michigan is on the path to economic prosperity. Our future is bright and filled with opportunities. But this is a shared journey and we will not leave anyone behind, especially our children.

    Editor’s note: Rick Snyder took office as Michigan’s 48th governor on Jan. 1, 2011.
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