After Unprecedented and Possibly Bellwether Emergency Financial Manager Request, Muskegon Heights Board Of Education Dispels Rumors, Says Farewell To Superintendent Bryant

Andrew Trzaska | December 12, 2011

  • Muskegon Heights will exist as a school district after January 1, 2011.
  • There is no intent to change the name of Muskegon Heights Public Schools at this time.
  • Muskegon Heights Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant was not fired from his position when the board of education announced last week they were eliminating the superintendent’s position.
  • Having Muskegon Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) superintendent Dave Sipka serve as interim superintendent for the district is not a preliminary move toward state takeover.

Muskegon Heights School Board president Rev. Avery Burrell established these four ideas at Monday’s full board meeting to answer rumors about the future of Muskegon Heights Public Schools.

Last week, the district’s board of education, along with superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant made an unprecedented move by proactively requesting an emergency financial manager (EFM) from the state as part of its plans for a balanced budget and deficit elimination.

If their request meets state approval, the board of education would be stripped of its decision-making power but would still exist in an advisory capacity.  If put in place, an EFM would stay in place until the state chooses to leave; the district cannot back out at that point.

Burrell dispelled both the renaming and the end-of-district rumors as “a complete fabrication.”

On the end of Dr. Bryant’s tenure with the district, Burrell pointed out that superintendent Bryant helped to draw up the list of cuts most recently proposed:

“How do you fire yourself?” said Burrell.

On the MAISD question, Burrell noted Monday that the MAISD would have acted as interim administration by default in the district’s situation; it was not a Bryant vs. Sipka decision.

With the board’s last regularly scheduled public meeting for the year, Dr. Bryant’s public role for Muskegon Heights Public Schools effectively ended Monday night.  Bryant retires at the end of 2011 after over 20 years with the district.

Dr. Bryant made a final statement at Monday’s meeting, Bryant expressed his feelings at the end of his time with the district:

“I am exhausted but not discontented.”

Bryant lauded the district’s parents, teachers and staff for keeping the district going, not just academically but through its band, athletics and other programs.

“I am confident we have the best students, parents and staff to move Muskegon Heights Public Schools forward”.

Bryant’s next moves are unannounced at this time; he currently is an adjunct professor teaching multiple courses in Western Michigan University’s graduate education program.

 

Public Knowledge, Reactions Uneven

 

Board trustee Nate Johnson and vice president Ronald Jenkins both used the phrase “damage control” to describe the board’s duty in informing the public of the realities of this decision.

Johnson shared the four rumors with the board, which Burrell immediately dispelled.

Public reaction to the board’s decision has been mixed.

During public comment, a parent asked for the district’s plan to address parents with proper information and to quell any further student attrition.

Dr. Bryant noted a “comprehensive packet” is being prepared and would be distributed to the parents of the district in the coming weeks.  Burrell also suggested another town hall forum.

When questioned in public comment about whether the district had exhausted all options, Burrell steadfastly defended its decision.

“There’s absolutely no way this board is taking the easy way out or giving up,” said Burrell. “We have gone through everything. There are small things we could have changed but they would not have made an impact to create a deficit elimination plan the state would have accepted.

“There is no quitting in me. I am not a quitter, I don’t let my kids be quitters,” said Burrell. “I don’t give up on people and I don’t give up on this district.
Support for the board was also voiced at the meeting.  District resident Mike Thompson did not see this month’s endgame as a failure, but a success.

“None of you have failed the district,” said Thompson.  “If I was to ask you to come down here and juggle three apples with your hands behind your back, it would be impossible. You have made the impossible work, but at the end you dropped the apples. But no one in this community should be ashamed of this board.”

 

Muskegon Heights: A Vanguard for Changes at the State Level?

 

Board president Burrell noted at Monday’s meeting that the district’s move to proactively ask for an EFM was not just unprecedented, but it might be a bellwether move for the whole state to follow.  Coincidental to last week’s request by Muskegon Heights, some members of Michigan’s state legislature  might be asking Governor Snyder to change the existing emergency financial manager law to function in a similar way.

Burrell indicated that he spoke with state representative Marcia Hovey-Wright about a “partition to the existing law” that would modify what EFMs can/should do.  Other districts may be able to ask for an EFM in a similar way if the legislation stays as currently drafted.

Despite their unprecedented the district must still go through the steps normally required to receive an emergency financial manager, including the arrival of a financial review team.

Burrell indicated the EFM would likely work with the district for a year to a year and a half.

From a question posed by board trustee Johnson, Dr. Bryant noted that there is no timeline set for a response from the State of Michigan about the installation of an emergency financial manager.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst