School Board, Superintendent of Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emphasize Optimism and Unity In Tough Months Ahead

Andrew Trzaska | May 24, 2011

The Muskegon Heights school board and Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant set a new tone of optimism and unity for the district at Monday’s full board meeting.

With the possibility of state intervention in the cash-strapped district’s operations, Monday’s meeting spoke less on the difficulties the district faces but on cooperation and understanding.

Numerous times, board members, other staff present at the meeting and Dr. Bryant himself emphasized the family-like community that develops among those who work for the district.

Dr. Bryant emphasized the upcoming job auction this Thursday in the district, which may help some displaced staff members affected by district cuts to find jobs elsewhere in the district as it reorganizes.
“We’re going to do anything in our power for any staff whose position is eliminated… We value our commitment to our workers”

Later in the meeting, Bryant noted that the district attempted in the past few years to maintain services, union contracts and programs even after the district saw a huge dropout in enrollment in 2005-2006.

“This board and administration has taken a stance.  We could have cut services years ago,” said Bryant. “There are some programs that are near and dear to my heart that may need to be cut.”

Also emphasized was the district’s decision to honor union contracts and not take them to court.

Board president Avery Burrel thanked the employee unions who have recently taken cuts, and indicated to all present that all parties in the district need to stand together and continue to work towards financial stability.

Burrel and Bryant both called on the entire district to work hard to solve the district’s financial issues on their own no matter whether the state ends up involved in the district’s finances.
“This is critical mass. And if [an emergency financial manager] comes in, we need to have all our ducks in a row,” said Burrel.

“Now is the time to rally our wagons and stand strong together,” said Bryant.

Muskegon Heights is on a list of 23 districts with deficits in the state, and 18 of those are slated to have an emergency financial manager.
Muskegon Heights has not officially been tagged for a manager at this point, but if it were to happen the manager could effectively end all contracts in the district, reduce the abilities of the superintendent and board, and even make non-financial decisions.

The board and superintendent addressed the possibility of being appointed a manager in a optimistic way.  Speaking of the district’s finances, Burrel noted a financial manager could be a way for the district to gain extra expertise, even if their plans result in painful cuts.

“They might find some stuff we didn’t find, but it’s a positive thing because we need help.  We need to be unified though.”

Board Vice President Ronald Jenkins and members of the audience addressed the community’s involvement in the district’s success, from participation in schools to trying to look at the positives of the district instead of recycling stereotypes.

“We have to fight this together. We don’t want that speculation that goes on.”

Andrew Trzaska

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