Children in Distressed Schools Need a Viable Solution

Last Tuesday, Gov. Snyder's school consolidation legislation applied to every school district in Michigan. The next day, it applied to nearly every school district. When it was passed the House late Thursday night, it only applied to two school districts in Michigan -- Buena Vista and Inkster.

When Republicans couldn't garner the necessary votes to move Gov. Snyder's legislation GOP leadership sold each member of their caucus a carve-out because they knew this was bad for their communities.

If this is bad for your community, why are you forcing it on the children of Inkster and Buena Vista?

What happened is morally reprehensible and indicative of the problem.

Fifty-five of Michigan's 549 public school districts are currently operating with annual deficits. Another 50 school districts will soon be operating in the red. This accounts for 20 percent of our public schools, yet this legislation does nothing to solve the issues in Pontiac or the other 102 schools that may soon find themselves in this situation.

We need a viable long-term solution that is substantive, sustainable and ensures these children receive a quality education.

I've drafted legislation with a series of tangible indicators that measure fiscal solvency (i.e. debt as a percentage of annual revenue, declining enrollment over a five- and/or 10-year period, etc.), not simply leaving this determination to the sole discretion of our state treasurer and superintendent whose decisions are subjective and would be politically influenced by the Governor, regardless of what party holds the office.

Districts that meet these criteria, with a joint agreement by the state treasurer, superintendent and local intermediate school district (ISD), would have their local ISD assume the powers vested in the school board for a determined period of time, eight years, or upon a vote by the ISD to restore the powers to the school board. During this period, the school board would act in an advisory capacity to the ISD.

After powers are restored to the board, the ISD would supervise the district for a five-year probationary period to ensure the district is managing its finances and meeting its obligation to its students.

Under my legislation the ISD would pay down the outstanding debt and restore the fiscal health of these schools by utilizing the existing non-homestead 18 million property tax within these communities to ensure we're not burdening residents and communities that are already enduring difficult times.

We also need to examine the negligence and mismanagement of local officials and those made by the Department of Education (MDE) and Treasury (MDT). It was recently discovered that the MDE knew Wolverine was no longer part of Buena Vista in July of 2012 and the state misappropriated funds. However, district officials should have identified this and rectified the situation.

In the case of Buena Vista, there are also profound discrepancies between the House Fiscal Agency's records and those cited in the MDE's preliminary review. This is a serious cause for concern.

We need better financial oversight so we can properly and accurately identify, assess and manage these situations. For instance, Gov. Snyder is currently attempting to push this ill-conceived legislation because his administration failed to identify the financial issues in a timely manner despite the fact that the MDT and MDE are the only parties with access to the financial records of school districts.

We also need more accountability locally to ensure the financials are reported accurately.

I'm also introducing legislation to give ISDs access the financial records of school districts within their borders. ISDs will not be given any legally authority to make financial decisions for a school district, but they will have an obligation to monitor finances and contracts and report any issues to the MDE, MDT, executive office, and the legislators that represent the school district.

This proactive legislation will allow us to better identify, assess and manage this issue. Altogether, this legislation will serve as a viable, substantive and sustainable system for managing this issue.