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Highland Park to charter all its schools in the fall--only way to save the district?

Another Michigan school district in deep financial trouble will be turned over to a charter operator for the coming school year.

The emergency manager of the Highland Park Public Schools announced the plan Monday.

Joyce Parker says the district  will likely start the next school year with a roughly $15 million deficit, and only about 800 students.

The district almost ran out of money earlier this year and only survived with a $4 million lifeline from the state.

Parker says she considered several scenarios, including bankruptcy and consolidating with another school district. But she says those options wouldn’t have guaranteed fall enrollment for all Highland Park students.

So Parker says she chose to go with the charter model because it provides "a number of advantages."

"We could then separate the financial aspects related to the district from the educational aspects related to the district," Parker said. "As the emergency manager, I would focus my time primarily on the financial stability of the district. The educational component would then be handled through this chartering academy process.”

Parker acknowledges they're still working on a tight timeline, though. The plan is to start looking for charter operators right away, and have one in place by mid-July.

It's unclear whether any of Highland Park's three school buildings will close. Teachers would have to re-apply for their positions.

Parker and state education officials said this solution could be temporary if the district can right its finances.

The emergency manager for the Muskegon Heights school district recently announced a similar plan.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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