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Community colleges looking to bankroll new Highland Park K-14 school system

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The Highland Park school district is almost out of cash. The state is working on a solution to keep kids in school.

This story was updated with additional information at 2:42 pm on 10/1/15

State and local officials may be close to a deal to create a new K-14 school system in Highland Park.

A number of community colleges are interested in bankrolling much of the revamped system, according to people involved in the talks.

“Refreshingly, we found a lot of interest at the community college level for doing something like this,” said state Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park). “So, I’m encouraged that we might get something done.”

The effort comes after the state-appointed emergency manager of Highland Park Schools recently shuttered its only high school due to low enrollment.

Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon says discussions are underway with Wayne County Community College as well as four others that he did not want to name. The idea is that the K-14 school system would be run by one or a combination of community colleges, and supervised by a “consortium” of the school district, the college or colleges and the city of Highland Park.

He’s set a target of the end of the year to get the agreements in place.

Supporters of the idea say they hope it would address enrollment problems by taking advantage of demand for unique, high-quality programs in an area with an unstable educational environment.

“And, frankly, that we might become even attractive to outside school districts who might want to come to what hopefully will be a world-class facility with STEM opportunities and a new façade and excellent education,” said Johnson.

“I have no doubt that if we can put a school district in place, perhaps one that could service 3,500 or so children, that it would attract kids from around the metro area. I have no doubt about that.”           

Johnson says parties involved in the talks hope to finalize plans in the next 60 days.

Weatherspoon says he’s not sure if the measure would require legislation, but it would have to be cleared by his “bosses” at the state level. If it flies, he’d like to see the new arrangement launched in 2017.