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Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The following is a summary of a previously recorded interview. To hear the complete segment, click the audio above.

Lester Graham is filling in for Cynthia Canty on today's Stateside.

In her recent report, Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith found that teachers in the new charter school system in Muskegon Heights were hired without teacher certification.

The entire public school system in Muskegon Heights was recently turned over to a private company.

While there are teachers who do have certification, there are others who do not.

The question is, what will happen with those teachers that have not been certified?

We sat down with reporter Lindsey Smith, who joined us from Grand Rapids.

She told us how it became evident that there were uncertified teachers working in the school system. She also tells us what it was like speaking to the parents in Muskegon Heights and their reactions.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The emergency financial manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools is asking voters to renew an operating millage for the next 16 years.

“The outcome of this millage will change the future of Muskegon Heights forever,” says a letter the school district’s emergency financial manager Don Weatherspoon sent home to parents this week.

Weatherspoon privatized the school district so he could focus on paying off its $16 million debt. That debt is mostly owed to the State of Michigan.

Muskegon prison reopens; set to employ 240

Oct 8, 2012
Ken Mayer / flickr

The Muskegon Correctional Facility has reopened and will employ 240 people.

That is freeing up space for inmates in other parts of the state.

Michigan began closing prisons in 2007 as part of budget cuts. The Muskegon Correctional Facility was shut down in 2009.

Now the 1,300 bed, medium-security facility is open again and the state has begun transferring inmates from other places—mostly from the Ryan Correction Facility in Detroit.

Russ Marlan is a Department of Corrections spokesman.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week people in Muskegon have been checking out a rare sight; several giant foreign ships that have docked there to unload cargo.

Crews in neon hard hats carefully lower a nearly 200-foot-long wind turbine blade from a massive ship onto a special truck that’s three times as long as a normal semi-trailer. The carbon fiber blades from Germany weigh about 22,000 pounds. The tower sections shipped from Korea can weigh up to 68 tons.

These thirty blades are destined for a wind farm in Ithaca, south of Mount Pleasant.

About fifty people gathered Thursday afternoon to watch. Families with small children snapped photos.

Life-long Muskegon resident Judy Dobberstein says she’s only seen the foreign ships, or “salties,” a couple of times before.

“This is the best viewing of salties that I think I’ve ever seen; one after another like this. This is really cool,” Dobberstien said.

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The first two weeks of class have presented some obstacles for Michigan’s first fully privatized public school district.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency financial manager hired Mosaica Education, a charter school company, in July to run the K-12 system while he focuses on paying off the district’s debt. Highland Park schools’ EFM took the same option later that month.

Alena Zachery-Ross is the top administrator at the new Muskegon Height Public School Academy System. She’s very positive, but admits the first two weeks didn’t go “as smoothly” as she expected.

“There are all these things that you don’t think of. There are small details that we want to ensure are taken care of immediately but they take time,” Zachery-Ross said. She says these 'day-to-day' details are important but she must stick to a priority list.

Mosaica was hired in July, 2012 to run the schools. (L toR) Mosaica Regional Vice President Alena Zachery Ross, Mosaica founder and President Gene Eidelman, and Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon.
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Parents in the Muskegon Heights Public School district are just starting to get an idea of what to expect for their children this fall.

The district is having major financial problems and is under the control of a state appointed emergency manager, Donald Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said turning over the entire district to a charter school operator was his only option to keep school open this year.

Last week, the three-member school board (appointed by the Weatherspoon) hired Mosaica Education Inc. to operate the schools in Muskegon Heights.

Muskegon Heights High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The leader of a small, urban school district in western Michigan is completely privatizing the public school system there. The case may become an example for other school districts facing major financial problems.

The problems are academic and financial

The situation at Muskegon Heights Public Schools was dire. It ran $18,000 in the red each day school was open last year.

The emergency manager of the Muskegon Heights Public School district has signed a contract with a private company to run the district next year.

Mosaica Education is a for-profit charter operator that already runs six other charter schools in Michigan.

DETROIT (AP) - Teachers in three school districts run by the state are laid off with many not knowing if they'll have jobs when classes begin.

Charter operators have yet to be selected to run new systems in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park.

State-appointed emergency managers have shopped Muskegon Heights in West Michigan and Highland Park near Detroit to charter operators as part of plans to pull the cash-strapped districts from near-fiscal ruin.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager of Muskegon Heights Public Schools says he’s signed a contract with a charter operator that will practically run the whole school district next school year.

In a press release sent out this afternoon, Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon says he’ll review the signed contract during a public meeting on Monday. The statement doesn’t say which charter school company got the deal. Weatherspoon was not available to discuss the release.

biddergy.com

Students in Muskegon Heights Public Schools are still in limbo while the district's state-appointed emergency manager decides what charter school company will manage the system.

MHPS Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon told parents in May he planned to turn the entire system over to a charter operator this fall. He also said he wanted to have a contract signed June 13.

There’s still no contract in place. That means parents don’t know yet if their kids will get bussed to class, if the district will offer athletics, AP classes, or band next school year.

Commentary: Charter Schools, Going too far?

Jun 19, 2012

There something I’d like to ask the Emergency Managers of the school districts in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park. Simply, are you sure you know what you are doing?  Have you thought this through, not only from the point of view of your district, but in regards to the future of education and the state of Michigan?

What I am referring to is the decisions by both superintendents to turn their entire districts over to charter school systems. In other words, to essentially privatize education.

Now, there is no doubt that Muskegon Heights is in bad shape financially.

Brother O'Mara / Flickr

Detroit in a game of revenue-sharing chicken with the state

Detroit's top lawyer, Krystal Crittendon, is challenging the legality of the city's consent agreement with the state in court. State officials are threatening to withhold millions of dollars in state revenue sharing payments if the lawsuit is not dropped.

Muskegon Heights High School (file photo)
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The teachers’ union at Muskegon Heights Public Schools has settled a lawsuit against the district. The union had alleged the district’s emergency manager was engaged in unfair labor practices.

Muskegon Heights schools' emergency manager Don Weatherspoon says allowing a charter school operator to run the public school district is the only way he can afford to keep school open next year. The deficit is more than $12 million. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon heard from parents, alumni, teachers, and taxpayers during and after the meeting. He reassured parents a free neighborhood school will be open this fall.

But most had questions he couldn’t answer yet. Like, will there be band, art or athletics? Busing and special education services? Although he’d prefer it, Don Weatherspoon says he cannot make any guarantees.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Tonight parents with students enrolled at Muskegon Heights Public Schools will get a chance to hear more about the new plan to turn the district's finances around.

The plan is to completely turn over operations to a charter school operator beginning this fall.

Muskegon Heights Public Schools is running a more than $12 million deficit.

The school board asked for a state appointed emergency manager after struggling for more than six years to close the budget gap.

Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon said the only way to do that is to have a charter operator run things so that he can worry about paying off the district's debts.

"I think the most important thing for both students and parents and the community is that they have a neighborhood school system," said Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon said consolidating with neighboring school districts was not an option because of Muskegon Heights' huge deficit. And he said cutting salaries, even by as much as 30 percent, wouldn't have gotten the district into the black.

I'll attend tonight's meeting and will update this story.

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed Donald Weatherspoon to run the Muskegon Heights school district. The appointment is effective Monday, April 23rd. A link to the governor's press release is here.

Dr. Weatherspoon has spent the past 27 years working in the education community, both as a professor at Michigan State University and as a government executive, and currently serves on the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Today is the deadline for the Muskegon Heights school board to ask the governor for a hearing on his impending appointment of an emergency manager to the district. It appears unlikely the school board will request the hearing.

Last December the Muskegon Heights school board laid off its superintendent and asked the state for an emergency manager. Four months later, Governor Rick Snyder agreed a financial emergency does exist and the school board has no real plan to fix it.

Unless the school board requests a hearing today, the next step is for Snyder to appoint the manager. That could happen as soon as this week.

Muskegon Heights schools would become the third school district run by an emergency manger in Michigan. Four cities are run by emergency managers as well. The City of Detroit is working under the terms of a consent agreement instead of an emergency manager.

Governor Rick Snyder has determined a financial emergency exists in the Muskegon Heights school district. The next step is for the governor to appoint an emergency manager to the district.

“Ensuring a quality education for students in Muskegon Heights is our top priority,” Snyder said in a written release issued Tuesday afternoon.

“The appointment of an Emergency Manager is the logical next step  in restoring financial stability to the troubled district, and in fact, is a step that has been requested by members of the Muskegon Heights Board of Education,” Synder said. Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights asked for a state takeover back in December.

Muskegon Heights School Board

A review team is recommending Governor Rick Snyder appoint an emergency manager to run the Muskegon Heights Public School district.

Unlike any other city or school district, the school board in Muskegon Heights voted for a state takeover.

Muskegon Heights Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row.

The review team found:

Nancy Gallardo / Until Love Is Equal

The City of Muskegon seems likely to pass local laws protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination in housing and employment.

The state and federal government do not offer this protection, but almost 20 Michigan cities do.

Roberta King lives in Muskegon. She was "pleasantly surprised" no one opposed the local law when she asked city commission to consider it this week.

A state appointed team that will decide if the Muskegon Heights school district needs an emergency manager really gets to work Wednesday. It’s the first time the team has met in Muskegon.

The governor appointed the review team in January. But because of legal challenges in the Highland Park school district, the team’s work has been delayed until now.

This week people hoping to overturn Michigan's emergency manager law plan to turn in petition signatures to state officials. State appointed emergency managers have broad powers to run cities and school districts with major financial problems. 

Roughly 160,000 valid signatures are needed to put the emergency manager law on the November ballot. The group claims they’ve collected at least 200,000 signatures. If the state certifies them the law would be put on hold until the November election.

The school board in the Muskegon Heights school district requested an emergency manager.

Interim Superintendent Dave Sipka worries what would happen there if the law was suspended.

“If an emergency manager isn’t available to help out then you know there’s a strong possibility this district could go bankrupt," Sipka said. 

Muskegon Heights Public Schools has run a deficit for at least six years in a row.

A new plan to eliminate a running deficit at Muskegon Heights Public Schools would close schools and cut teacher pay by 40-percent. That means a teacher with a PhD and 20 years of experience would make around $40,000 a year. New teachers would make around $20,000.

But school leaders admit the plan is still unlikely to work.

Unions haven’t even voted on the concessions. But interim superintendent Dave Sipka had to submit the plan anyway to get the money the district needed from the state in order to make payroll.

Governor Snyder has appointed a team to review the Muskegon Heights School District's financial records. That puts the west Michigan school district a step closer to getting an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Heights school district asked for a state review of its finances back in December.

The preliminary review found the school district was in ‘probable financial stress’, due to the district’s $8.5 million deficit.

That set the stage for the governor to appoint a state review team to scour the school district’s books. 

If an emergency manager is eventually appointed in Muskegon Heights schools, it will join school districts in Detroit and Highland Park. Emergency managers are also running things in four Michigan cities.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Michigan’s Department of Education is recommending the governor conduct a formal review of Muskegon Heights Public Schools’ finances. That’s the next step in a process that could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager – which the school board has asked the state to do.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Tomorrow the state will begin a preliminary review of the Muskegon Heights School District’s finances. This is the first step in a process that would determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager.

Many school districts and municipalities make an effort to avoid state takeovers. But in Muskegon Heights, the school board is asking for one.

Muskegon Heights School Board

Update 11:36 a.m. The Muskegon Heights School Board plans to take the unusual step of asking for a state takeover. And they say they want Marios Demetriou, a Deputy Superintendent at the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, to be the person who servers as their emergency manager. 

The school district has a deficit of around $9 million, and it’s growing. The board blames rising expenses, funding reductions, declining enrollment, and soaring health care costs as reasons for its problems. The Muskegon Heights Superintendent, Dana Bryant, has decided to "give up his job" to "help with financial relief efforts." He'll retire at the end of the year.

The Muskegon Area Intermediate School District Superintendent, Dave Sipka, will act as interim Superintendent for Muskegon Heights in the meantime. If one is appointed, an emergency manager could change or end union contracts to reduce the district’s deficit.

Doug Pratt, with the Michigan Education Association, said employees in Muskegon Heights have made sacrifices, and more concessions are not the answer. “The issue really is the fundamental lack of adequate funding from Lansing, especially when you look at the most recent cut of a billion dollars from public education that the legislature enacted earlier this year,” said Pratt.

Even though they’re asking for one, an emergency appointment wouldn’t come right away. A financial review would have to be performed before an EM is appointed. The Michigan Department of Education says they have not received the official request from the Muskegon Heights School Board yet, but they’ve been notified the request is coming. Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis said the state has had “great concern over the financial stability of Muskegon Heights for quite some time.” She said the Muskegon Heights deficit has grown from $800,000 to around $9 million in the last 5 years. “Their ability to repay that debt or balance their budget becomes harder and harder, just like it would with everyone’s personal budget, if they got further and further in debt,” said Ellis.

The Muskegon Heights School Board has asked for an emergency manager to run the school district.

Thursday, December 8, 11:36 p.m.

In a statement, Muskegon School Board President Avery Burrel said,

"This is the first step in a long process of rebuilding our district's operational future. With the loss of Dr. Bryant's leadership, and the load of debt we are under, my fellow board members and I felt we must set aside our personal pride and ask the State and MAISD for help. Our children are counting on us to do so, and the future of our district depends on our actions today."

9:49 a.m.

Most school districts or cities work to avoid an emergency manager appointment, but the Muskegon Heights school board is practically begging for an emergency manager.

The Muskegon Chronicle reports the school board owes more than $900,000 to the state retirement system.

From the Muskegon Chronicle:

The school board in a surprising move Wednesday voted to ask that Marios Demetriou, the deputy superintendent for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, be appointed the district's emergency financial manager.

It also eliminated the superintendent's position, accepting the Dec. 31 retirement of Superintendent Dana Bryant, who in a statement said that considering all the other job losses in the district “I need to be man enough to give up my own job to help with the financial reform efforts.”

There are five emergency mangers operating in the state today.

With other school districts and cities in financial distress, more are likely to be appointed.

co.Muskegon .mi.us

Muskegon County has reached an agreement with developers to build a large-scale wind farm at its waste water treatment plant. The 11,000 acre site sits less than 15 miles away from the Lake Michigan shoreline. The county also rotates growing corn, soybeans and alfalfa on the land. This week the county board agreed to lease the plot to add wind farming to the mix.

Amanda Pitts / Grand Valley State University

An entrepreneur in Muskegon has outgrown the business incubator where his company began.

Smart Vision Lights reopened at its new location this week after more than three years at the incubator. The company develops LED lighting systems for manufacturing companies who want to take quality control photos.

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