Muskegon Heights Teachers Union, Emergency Financial Manager Settle Before Hearing Regarding Layoffs

Andrew Trzaska | June 7, 2012

After striving for an injunction  against emergency financial manager Dr. Donald Weatherspoon’s planned layoffs and eventual privatization of the district’s educational services, the Muskegon Heights Education Association settled the matter in a plan that will still allow the layoffs to occur.

The agreement came with a looming circuit court hearing set for this afternoon; the planned proceedings were delayed one hour while the parties continued to work toward a settlement.

Key provisions of the multi-part settlement appear to revolve around the short notice of termination of health benefits and the disruption of the Weatherspoon’s short timeline to enact any educational plan before the start of the coming school year.

As part of the settlement, full and complete district teacher layoffs would proceed, effective June 13th.  Employees would be paid at full rate through the 12th. Health benefits will now last through August 30, 2012, instead of expiring for teachers on June 30.

In return, it appears that the union would not seek to file another injunction regarding Weatherspoon’s personnel decisions.  As part of one of the clauses of the agreement, the Muskegon Heights Education Association (MHEA) did not however, accept Weatherspoon’s legal rights to make the decisions, meaning they would accept a verdict in their favor if a court rules in their favor in the future.

It has been a busy week regarding this matter. Last week, the teachers union filed with the circuit court to issue an injunction stopping the emergency manager’s actions.  Judge Timothy Hicks was set to hear the case, but it had to be reassigned to Judge James Graves Jr. late last week because Hicks was a personal friend of MAISD superintendent Dave Sipka, one of the big players in the recent Muskegon Heights Public Schools changes.

Graves received the case last Friday and after initial review, noted in a finding Monday that the state emergency manager trumps the law at the cornerstone of the MHEA’s suit: the Public Employment Relations Act.  Today’s planned hearing was set to allow each side to provide evidence that Weatherspoon either complied or did not comply with that law.

With the settlement, it appears Weatherspoon’s plans to privatize the educational services of the district will proceed, at least for the time being.  Three companies applied to run the district by last week’s deadline.  The selected company will start its operation of the district at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year if Weatherspoon’s authority remains upheld.

Andrew Trzaska

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