State of Michigan Not Interested In Taking Over Muskegon Heights Public Schools; More Deficit Cuts Still Needed

Andrew Trzaska | November 21, 2011

“We’ve still got a long ways to go but we’re going to hammer at it.”

Spoken by Muskegon Heights school board president Avery Burrel, those words encapsulated the mood at Monday’s special board meeting, the first public meeting of the board after last Wednesday’s meeting between the school district and the state.

District superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant and multiple board members sought to quell reports that the meeting last week was going to be the start of a state takeover of the district while also attempting to inform the public of the challenges yet to come.

The news coming out of last week’s meeting was first reported by 103.7 The Beat last Wednesday afternoon following the meeting in a call with Dr. Bryant. [Click here for full interview]

Wednesday’s meeting became a flashpoint of rumor only a few days before, when local media reported comments made by John Covington, the chancellor of the State of Michigan’s Education Achievement System, a program that has the power to take over failing schools.

Covington’s remarks were loosely interpreted to say Muskegon Heights could be overtaken as soon as next school year; however, Wednesday’s meeting showed no indication to the board members, auditors, superintendent or MEA union officials that the State has any interest in taking over the district.

The meeting between the district’s representatives and multiple state departments focused mostly on the school’s finances, and loosely touched on Covington’s remarks by association.

What the meeting pointed out, according to Burrel, was that the state found Muskegon Heights was making the right cuts thus far:

“When we did go through line by line, [the state] couldn’t make any real suggestions to us that we hadn’t already done,” said Burrel.

Dr. Bryant cautioned Muskegon Heights Public Schools still had further to go:

“We don’t anyone to leave this meeting and think there won’t be more cuts, because there will be more cuts… As of right now our deficit elimination plan has not been in approved.  We’re not out of the water yet but we have an extension.”

“As a community we need to circle the wagons and put together a budget that will satisfy the state,” said Bryant.

Multiple board members and Dr. Bryant acknowledged a greater need for the need for the public to stay in the know.  Approximately 15 members of the public attended Monday’s meeting. The board wished for more, both to spread the work and hear suggestions.

“We need to educate our public,” said Burrell, “And we need to have more forums where our parents come together and let them know what’s going on in our district.”

Vice president Ronald Jenkins stressed the Dr. Bryant’s open-door policy for public concerns and encouraged people to attend school board meetings to hear about the district’s situation firsthand.

“We get the negative part and our community jumps to the negative they read,” said Jenkins. “It spreads like wildfire through our community and it makes everyone panic.”

Joe Warren, president of the Muskegon Heights Alumni Association, suggested that beyond board meetings, the public and parents could work to attend school parent-teacher organization meetings, or in buildings where there might not be a strong organization, new ones could be formed.

Andrew Trzaska

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