The saga continues at what was once Muskegon Heights Public Schools.
Last year the school district ran into a rather nasty fiscal storm and collapsed. Several factors were at work. First its industrial base — the original rationale for the district in the first place — had disappeared. Without a strong industrial base, the non-homestead tax simply lagged. Then came the recession, with its slashing of state budgets, and the disappearance or roughly a third of the total school population. Without an economic cushion, with cutbacks from Lansing and a shrunken population it’s no wonder the district went into fiscal shock.
Perhaps some sort of smart management could have rescued it in time, but the pull of pride and tradition often push us away from making the tough choices that would otherwise save us. In a larger context, the problem MHPS is simply that it was too small. Its size left it without the flexibility needed to navigate the difficult waters. MHPS is not alone. There are plenty of school districts throughout the region structured the same way: built on a single piece of heavy industry, they began as an offshoot from the larger school districts in the area. Or they were rural districts that decided to keep their ways. In either case, they are exposed to significant economic risk. Their small boats not suited for the larger storms.
The decision to turn to a charter system, to in effect declare bankruptcy, is perhaps the only answer available. And as with bankruptcies everywhere, the workers take the hit.
As MLive reports, the new financial plan provides an average teacher salary of $35,000. Possible incentive pay may raise that to roughly $40,000, depending on how the money is delivered. Some minimal provision is made for healthcare, as well. The technology budget is another shock: $10,000 for four buildings. Even if one tosses out the young el building, that still leaves little more than $3000 per building. What exactly gets purchased with that?
Two comments seem important: low wages can be overcome with a high sense of mission. This has been the secret heart of many urban schools as it is, at MHPS the mission-offset will get a full test. The second obvious impact will be the higher turnover. Under-resourced schools and low pay do count. There’s every reason to expect significant turnover with its attendant costs to students and educational continuity.
And lastly, it cannot be stressed enough: this is what poverty means for our students. Muskegon Heights desperately needs the economic recovery in region. Desperately. It cannot do this on its own. Even now, merger may be the end game