Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 14, 2013

Plan: Dissolve school districts in deficit

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation that would grant the state the power to dissolve public school districts that are in financial deficit.

The legislation would allow the state to dissolve a local district and disperse its students to one or more receiving schools if the district has less than 2,500 pupils, fails to submit a required deficit reduction plan to the state, or cannot implement the plan while maintaining the educational services required by state law.

The Michigan Department of Education released a a report last month that listed a record 55 districts with deficits for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. The report also contained FY 2012-13 deficit projections for those districts.

Bellaire Public Schools was the only district in the Grand Traverse region on the deficit list, but it won’t be there for long.

Bellaire’s Board of Education is expected to pass both a final amended 2012-13 budget and a 2013-14 budget that are in the black.

“We are out of deficit,” Superintendent Jim Emery said in an email this week.

Emery and other district officials could not be reached for further details on the district’s budget plans.

The DOE report projects Bellaire Public Schools will have a fund balance of about $5,900 at the end of this month. The district’s overall budget is about $3.8 million, district records show.

Downstate districts in Pontiac, Inkster and Buena Vista are most likely to be first affected by dissolution measures if the legislation is approved.

State Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, is a sponsor of one of two dissolution bills. He said the bills are an attempt to ensure all students have a place to go to school next fall.

Some lawmakers want to fast-track the measures in order to enact them before legislators’ summer break begins.

State Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, D-Saginaw, said anyone living in a district with a student population below 2,500 should be worried about the unprecedented dissolution proposal and efforts to hurry it through the legislative process.

Oakes’ concerns included a lack of specificity in the legislation about how students will be assigned to new districts, and how they will be transported to new schools.

“All of those things could be worked out, but not before we go on summer break,” Oakes said.

State Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, did not return a call for comment.

State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, said it’s important to create some sort of a plan to ensures all students have a quality education available.

“It’s something that is guaranteed to students by virtue of the state Constitution,” Walker said.