UPDATE: Further Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Appointment Details Shared By Interim Superintendent

Andrew Trzaska | April 10, 2012

[View initial 103.7 report on the governor’s announcement]

In an interview with 103.7 The Beat Tuesday afternoon, interim Muskegon Heights superintendent Dave Sipka shared more details about the district’s future under an emergency financial manager, and when people should expect the next steps of the process to happen.

Sipka indicated that the district and the MAISD received a letter from the governor Tuesday afternoon, stating that the conclusions found by the district’s financial review team were valid, and indicating an emergency was imminent.

The governor will not make any decisions on whom to appoint until after the board decides whether or not to appeal the ruling. Currently, the district has one week to appeal the decision, with a decision required by April 17. If appealed, the hearing will occur at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18 in Lansing.

The board is not expected to appeal the findings, though board trustee Trinell Scott previously questioned the rest of the board about whether a consent agreement, a related form of emergency financial intervention that keeps more power in the hands of the elected board, would have been a viable solution to have suggested back in December.

Sipka indicated that the district does not yet have any knowledge of whom Governor Snyder might appoint as the manager.  The Governor has 10 days to appoint an emergency financial manager, but if the district chooses to appeal the findings, the appointment would be pushed further off until the appeal was resolved.

Under Public Act 4, the role of the board of education would be severely diminished. The board would still be allowed to meet but would lack most decisionmaking authority.

Whether or not the office of the interim superintended would receive an equally diminished role is unclear at this time. Sipka indicated that superintendents of other school districts that have received emergency financial managers have worked alongside the EFMs. Yet, he also explained that the superintendent generally works with a board of education to make decisions; without a board, a superintendent does lose authority as well.

Further complexity surrounds Sipka’s role as interim superintendent. Sipka became interim superintendent because intermediate school district guidelines require the ISD superintendent to take over in a district where there is no active superintendent and no interim one has been named.  Sipka indicated that his interim role might further reduce his authority under an emergency financial manager, but noted he would likely continue working on the curriculum side of the district’s administration.

Muskegon Heights was the first governmental unit to explicitly request an emergency financial manager from the state since Public Act 4 took effect.  It is now running up against a petition for repeal of the act, which once certified by the Secretary of State,  could suspend a Heights EFM’s powers to right the district’s finances.

Sipka spoke about this continued peculiarity of Muskegon Heights Public Schools’ position:

“It is such an unusual situation because Muskegon Heights is in the middle of this big target, with arrows shooting at it from all different directions.”

Regarding the day’s decision, Sipka indicated today’s announcement from the Governor should only be seen as a step in the process:

“This is not a surprise at all. I think the initial review team’s and the later findings pointed to this,” said Sipka. “What it does is it starts the clock ticking.”

At this time, Muskegon Heights awaits the board’s decision on whether to appeal the Governor’s declaration of financial emergency. A manager will not be appointed for at least the next week to ten days, if not more.

Sipka Denies Conspiracy

Sipka also spoke to concerns and accusations raised at Monday’s board meeting about his commitment to the district.  Multiple public comments echoed the suggestion that the recent decision by Muskegon Public Schools to open up 600 schools of choice slots was a conspiracy to close Muskegon Heights down.

“If you are fully immersed in this, you have to plan for all possible scenarios,” said Sipka.

Along with denying a conspiracy, Sipka also suggested that he would have been criticized for not doing anything if he did not approach other districts including Muskegon Public Schools, and later a contingency plan was needed.

“You have to prepare for all possibilities.”

[View Press Release: State of Michigan Governor MHPS Determination]

View the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District special Muskegon Heights page for further budget, Public Act 4 and other related information.

Andrew Trzaska

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