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Michigan: How to Kill a School District by Reforming It

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This alarming article describes the destruction of the Highland Park, Michigan, school district.

Once a thriving community, Highland Park suffered as the automobile industry declined. Its schools declined as the community became poorer and blacker.

The Highland Park district is more than 90% black. That makes it just right for a state takeover because it does not have political power. So, get ready for the “civil rights movement of our time” to step in, take charge of the schools, and kill off the district.

Governor Rick Snyder thought he knew how to fix the ills of Highland Park: He appointed an emergency manager to set its financial house in order in 2012. The emergency manager was an accountant. He also had spent some time working for White Hat, the for-profit charter company in Ohio, which has perfected the extraction of funds from public money for private gain.

The first emergency manager was gone in a few months, and a new one was installed.

Instability and churn were the watchwords of the districts that Governor Synder took over.

In all, the Highland Park School District has had five emergency managers at the helm over the 4 1/2 years it has been under state control.

Still, Highland Park’s public school system continued to disintegrate, finally reaching the point today where it barely exists at all.

For anyone seeking a measuring stick to assess the job done by the district’s emergency managers and the for-profit charter school company hired to run Highland Park schools, the most telling statistic may be this:

At the time of the takeover, the district had 969 students. Today, that number, according to the state’s school data web site, is 311 — a drop of nearly 70 percent. Moreover, all of the students attend the district’s last remaining school, which serves both elementary and middle school students.

The state takeover was complicated:

Operating under a paradigm similar to the new system created for Detroit Public Schools, there are two public school districts operating side-by-side in Highland Park.

One is the “old” district, known as the School District of the City of Highland Park.

That district is overseen by an elected school board that has virtually no power and nothing to do with governing the education provided to the city’s children.

The “old” district exists only to pay accumulated debt.

Just how much is owed?

School board members have been asking for that number. But, according to the state of Michigan, no one — including the emergency manager put in place by Snyder to ensure the debt gets paid off — can say exactly what it really is, because legally required financial audits haven’t been filed for the past two years.

A second, “new” district was created in 2012 by Joyce Parker, the second of five EMs appointed by Snyder to control education in Highland Park. This new district, unencumbered by the debt being paid off by the “old” district, was supposed to flourish because all per-pupil state funding was, ostensibly, able to go toward education and not toward satisfying the demands of bondholders.

However, in 2014, Michigan Radio reported that the new district was already facing a deficit of about $600,000, a shortfall attributed in large part to a continued decline in enrollment.

This new district — known as the Highland Park Public School Academy System — is operated by The Leona Group, a private, for-profit charter school management company with a checkered past.

The entire district was handed over to a for-profit charter chain. No more public education. Families are fleeing. Soon there won’t be a district.

Michigan has perfected a formula for destroying an entire school district.

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