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Buena Vista schools update: Layoffs and how the Voting Rights Act impacts dissolution

Sarah Alvarez
Michigan Radio

Last night, Buena Vista School District held meetings to discuss two important issues.

Overall, while the board made decisions for the 2013-2014 school year assuming the school district would open this coming fall, the future of the district depends on whether or not higher ups decide to dissolve the struggling school system.

First, the board made decisions on the school district’s budget and layoffs.

According to Lindsay Knake at MLive, they decided to lay off 20 teachers and staff members – leaving the district with just three employees when the school year ends on Friday, June 28.

The board also  approved an application that requests a $2.5 million loan from the state. The state’s Emergency Municipal Loan Act of 1980 provides emergency financial assistance of up to $5 million to financially distressed school districts like Buena Vista.

Second on the agenda: they discussed the Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

How exactly was a school district like Buena Vista impacted by Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act?

The explanation is a little complicated, but before the Supreme Court’s ruling, any changes that affected elections in Buena Vista Township might have needed the clearance of the U.S. Department of Justice. That's because Buena Vista Township was covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (If you’re interested in reading more on the Act and how it impacts Michigan townships, check out Michigan Radio's article here.)

But now that the Voting Rights Act no longer applies, pre-clearance by the Justice Department is not an option. The dissolution of a publicly elected board – like the Buena Vista School Board – would not need prior approval from the federal government.

This was not welcome news to the Buena Vista School Board.

Currently, there are two House Bills – 4813 and 4815 – that have passed both the House and the Senate and were presented to Governor Snyder today. These bills limit the power of local school boards and authorizes the decision making power to dissolve a school district to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan and State Treasurer Andy Dillon. 

At the moment, the future of the Buena Vista School District looks like it could go one of two ways:

1) Governor Snyder signs the bills and Mike Flanagan opts to dissolve the school district. The 250 students who remain enrolled at Buena Vista would go to another school.


2) If Snyder vetoes House Bill 4813 and 4815 or Flanagan does not opt to dissolve the school district, Lindsay Knake of MLive reports that the Buena Vista School District is looking into having a charter company take over the district’s management.

According to Knake:

The traditional public district would not become a charter school, he said, but would contract with a private company for management. "Bringing on a management team to help us with finances, that’s an awesome plan to move forward. It would also help with academics," he said. "We would have voice in saying who we would like to manage the district. It could be a transformation model that could work across the state."

If the school is not dissolved, another potential option for the district's management is an emergency manager. According to Knake, the school board asked for a preliminary review of their finances.

- Julia Field, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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