LANSING – State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright (Muskegon) said Thursday that the state Legislature should use excess money in the School Aid Fund budget to prevent massive teacher layoffs in the troubled Muskegon Heights School District.
“Yesterday, we found out in the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference that the School Aid Fund revenue is expected to increase by about $112 million this year,” Hovey-Wright said. “Rather than stashing that away in a rainy day fund, that money should be used to help school districts like Muskegon Heights that are fighting for survival now. Districts like Muskegon Heights aren’t just having a rainy day. They’re in the middle of a perfect storm.”
Hovey-Wright said decisions of the Republican-controlled Legislature have contributed greatly to the financial stress in many school districts across the state. Last year, the Legislature reduced per-pupil school funding by $470 per student and drained nearly $1 billion from public school funding. At the same time, housing values have fallen dramatically in many parts of the state, resulting in lower school revenue from property taxes. And Muskegon Heights’ situation was worsened when the state gave it a $7.9 million loan last year that comes due later this summer, a pay-back time frame that is impossible to meet.
“The state played a part in bringing the district to this crisis point,” Hovey-Wright said. “Therefore, it only makes sense to return funds to desperate school districts like Muskegon Heights if there is a surplus.”
Because of its troubles, Emergency Manager Donald Witherspoon was appointed to run the cash-strapped school district April 23. This week, Witherspoon declared that the publicly elected school board would now act only in an advisory capacity and made himself the sole decision-maker for personnel matters. Yesterday, the district’s 158 teachers, staffers and administrators were told they would lose their jobs on June 8, after the school year ends. It’s unclear what will happen when the next school year begins.
Hovey-Wright said that while Muskegon Heights is one of the most severely challenged districts in the state, many more are nearing the financial brink. The way in which Muskegon Heights’ problems are handled signal to parents around the state what they can expect if an emergency manager is appointed to their districts.
“You cannot have a school without teachers,” Hovey-Wright said. “Families in Muskegon Heights need to know if their kids will have a school to go to in the fall. We can’t afford to play games with the future of our children. Our schools must be supported.”