Emergency Financial Manager Takes Over Michigan School District

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced his appointment of an emergency financial manager to Highland Park Schools -- a district outside Detroit -- on Jan. 27, according to The Detroit News. Jack Martin, a certified public accountant and former Chief Financial Officer for the U.S. Department of Education, has been charged with helping the district out if its financial difficulty.

Gov. Snyder first declared the district was in a financial emergency in a press release issued on Jan. 12, citing their increasing cumulative deficit and decreasing student enrollment as the basis for his decision. According to Michigan Public Act 4 of 2011, the governor's next step is to appoint an emergency manager to take over the troubled district. This manager would assume financial decision-making, rendering the school board and other elected or hired officials devoid of their authority.

While the school board requested a hearing with State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flanagan to contest the governor's declaration, Gov. Snyder's decision stands.

As a public educator in Michigan, this news is disconcerting for a number of reasons.

First, the school system's financial difficulties negatively impact students and employees, particularly if the district closes. Whether the legislative means by which schools are funded or the careless spending habits of the district's officials are to blame for their financial woes, the reality is that an entire community and the instruction of its youth are facing uncertainty, yet another example of the difficulties before Michigan families.

Moreover, the community's democratic rights are at stake. The district's school board members, though they will still remain in office, will no longer have the power to execute the duties for which their citizens elected them. Instead, the government will appoint one person - a financial expert - to make all educational spending decisions.

Jack Martin's experience working for the U.S. Department of Education certainly gives him an advantage over other financial experts, but to pronounce he is fit to assume full responsibility for decision-making in a field in which he is not an expert is irresponsible.

It's clear the district needs financial guidance from an expert such as Jack Martin, for their financial operations to date have been ineffective. But to disregard the wishes of the community by replacing their elected officials with a corporate officer is not the way to alleviate the school system's problems.

Laura Sauer is a high school English teacher in Michigan with eight years experience. She holds a BA in English and is pursuing her MA in Curriculum Development and Instruction.

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