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Muskegon Heights schools has lots to do as charter company departs

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Mosaica Education, the charter company running Muskegon Heights schools, only has a few days left in its contract. But the district still has lots to do to get everything in place for the fall.

Last night the district hired its superintendent at a special board meeting. But it still has to finalize agreements with a staffing agency to hire all of its teachers and few other vendors by Monday.

This summer it has to finish building repairs, and rearrange all the grade levels because an elementary school building will close.

Superintendent Alena Zachery-Ross says she has a few grant applications that need to get in by Monday as well.

“We’re going to get it done,” she said. “Really, we have to be able to offer our students and our community something even better than they’ve had and that’s what we hope – that we can deliver on this promise that the best is yet to come,” she said.

The board approved a budget for next school year. It calls for a slight decrease in student enrollment, from 927 to 850 students.

“We wanted to make sure that we had a budget that we could control. We feel like last year we didn’t have control over all those students leaving,” Zachery-Ross said.

Student enrollment plummeted 40% since an emergency manager took over Muskegon Heights schools two years ago.

Zachery-Ross says neighboring districts accepted more Muskegon Heights students through schools of choice than they had in years past. Some students left because they weren’t on track to graduate. Others left because of the uncertainties with the state takeover.

Still, Mosaica’s projected budgets didn’t reflect those losses. That, along with other unexpected costs, helped create a new budget shortfall this year that caused layoffs and eventually required the state to loan the district more money to keep schools open.  

If more than 850 students show up in the fall, Zachery-Ross says they could hire more staff. She says more than 90% of students have signed re-enrollment forms.

Class sizes are expected to stay at roughly 25 to 30 students per teacher.

Teachers are expected to make about the same as they did under Mosaica.

Zachery-Ross will get a slight pay increase to $135,000. She will also have more responsibilities without a management company to turn to for help.

Emergency manager Gregory Weatherspoon says the new "hybrid model" will be more economical. But it's not clear exactly how much money it'll save over the setup with Mosaica until all the agreements are finalized.

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.
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