State Deputy Superintendent: State Police To Hand Muskegon Heights Funding Investigation Over To Federal Government

Andrew Trzaska | February 2, 2012

The Deputy Superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education confirmed Thursday that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General will investigate the potential misuse of federal funds by Muskegon Heights Public Schools.

The federal government’s investigation will replace the Michigan State Police’s investigation according to Carol L. Wolenberg, who is Deputy Superintendent for the State Department of Education and also a member of the Governor’s review team recently tasked with determining the financial distress on the district.

The alleged misuse appears to have taken place before early 2011.  The State’s investigation came to a head when it raided the Muskegon Heights Board of Education building on March 16, 2011. Computers and paper records were seized and district administrators were interviewed at the time of the raid. No charges have been filed in connection with the investigation at this time.

While public school districts receive numerous types of funding from federal and state governments, the investigation is believed to be in regards to the misuse of Title I funds. Title I funds come in several forms, ranging from basic, broad grants to targeted ones designed to give extra help to districts.  Over 56,000 public schools across the country serving 21 million children received Title I funding last year.

It was not apparent at the time of publication whether timing of this investigative transition and the appointment of the review team are related.

However, in email communications between 103.7 The Beat and Wolenberg, the Deputy Superintendent spoke to an awareness of the investigation by the review team:

“As a member of the recently appointed Governor’s Review Team for the district, I can assure you that we will be looking into this issue very closely,” said Wolenberg.

The review team, which includes Former GTE/Verizon/Frontier public relations officer John VanWyck and president of Muskegon Community College Dale Nesbary, has just under 60 days to review the district’s finances and make a recommendation to the State of Michigan whether an emergency financial manager should be appointed.  Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent and acting Muskegon Heights Superintendent Dave Sipka has requested an emergency manager appointment by March 1, sooner than the 60-day window.

A timeline for the federal investigation was not available at the time of publication.

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(Listen to former Muskegon Heights Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant and Board Vice President Ronald Jenkins speak after the raid back in 2011).

Andrew Trzaska

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