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Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Explains Thought Process That Led To Charter School District Plan

Donald Weatherspoon

Andrew Trzaska | May 30, 2012

[Read further details about how the charter plan will pay down the district’s debt]

[Read about the process by which the Muskegon Heights charter plan will be implemented]

[View documentation from Wednesday’s community presentation here]

After determining both bankruptcy and consolidation were not available options for Muskegon Heights Public Schools, the district’s appointed emergency financial manager settled on a K-12 charter school system, which would be the first of its kind in the State of Michigan.

This process of elimination received deeper explanation on Wednesday at a community presentation by emergency manager Dr. Donald Weatherspoon.

The plan as of today is to create a charter district within the Muskegon Heights district, which will be called the Muskegon Heights Charter School Academy System.  Weatherspoon believes the use of a private management company will allow the district to improve its academic performance.

At the meeting, Weatherspoon indicated that annexation of Muskegon Heights Public Schools by another district or consolidation with one was not an option at this time. Weatherspoon cited too little time before the next school year and no interest from other districts in taking on the Muskegon Heights Public School debt.  If consolidation or annexation were considered, the current $12 million debt would have to be transferred.

“No district in this county is in a position to take more debt,” said Weatherspoon.

Nor could the district declare bankruptcy, as long as students still chose to attend the district:

“As long as there are revenue streams in the form of students coming to the district, you cannot declare bankruptcy,” said Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon’s turning point came through this process of elimination but also by focusing on his main directive from the governor: providing quality education to the students of Muskegon Heights Public Schools:

“Then I said, what could work? The best I could come up with is creating something new.”

Between academic and facilities improvements, Weatherspoon believes the tide of students leaving can be stemmed or even reversed. He repeatedly stated Wednesday that academic improvement is inextricably tied to the district’s financial woes.

Weatherspoon stressed that the district has not made Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the state for several years.  The district’s average MEAP scores average in at over 36% below the state average in grades 3-9, and 100% of 12th grade students are below accepted ACT college readiness benchmarks in 2011.

While making no guarantees, Weatherspoon said that negotiations with a charter management provider would include sports, foreign language programs, special needs programs, bussing, and more, according to Weatherspoon.

“I believe the charter system will provide more academic options to our students.”

“We have lost our competitive edge, and we need to regain that. We need to bring students back to the Heights with the confidence they are going to get a good education.”

Weatherspoon intends to keep multiple buildings open, but the district will need to do many repairs to the current buildings and infrastructure to do this.

“The community has said they want neighborhood schools. We will ensure that happens with this system.”