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Muskegon Heights schools face dramatic cuts and wait for emergency manager

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.

“It’s sort of a sad commentary on coming up with a plan that’ll work but in the end I doubt that it really will work,” Sipka said.

For one, Sipka says it’s unlikely the district can retain teachers for that little pay.  

The district has run a deficit for at least six years in a row.

The Muskegon Heights school board is waiting for the state to review its finances to see if it needs an emergency manager.

So far, the team that’s supposed to determine that hasn’t even met. That’s because of a ruling in another school district(Highland Park) that’s challenged the process. But Sipka isn’t too worried about the delay yet. 

“Theoretically they could come in and really in an afternoon review the data and come to the conclusion that this district is in deep financial stress,” Sipka said. The review team has a 60 day window to make a recommendation; that window closes at the end of March.

Sipka says the district should be able to meet payroll through the end of March, although at least one payment will be delayed.

In a press release Sipka went on;

“The reality is the State required us to submit a plan that eliminates the deficit within three years, or it would not deliver the State Aid payment needed to stay open. While the plan is unrealistic based on the current response of union groups, we must comply with the State’s direction. This is our reality.” The district still faces the possibility that Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) may garnish the district’s State Aid payments for the approximately $1.4 million they are owed. This decision will come on March 22. “While solving the district’s financial crisis is important, we are working on many ways to strengthen academic performance as well. Both are critical.” said Sipka.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.