Thursday, May 16, 2013

Teachers Offer to Work for Free and Get Fired Anyway

The small Buena Vista, Michigan school district (500 students) closed its doors this week—more than a month early—because it is broke, despite the fact that its teachers agreed to work for free. If the district does not find the money to reopen, seniors may be prevented from graduating.

The cause of the district’s financial woes, according to the Huffington Post, was that it spent money provided by the state for running the Wolverine Secure Treatment Center, an organization with which the district no longer works. Consequently, the state has frozen district funds until the district can repay $402,000. The district also lost $3 million in state funding due to declining enrollment, Yahoo News reported. However, Buena Vista, like many other districts throughout the U.S., has suffered most significantly from across the board cuts in education spending by state governments.

The state of Michigan could have bailed out the struggling district, thus saving parents the hassle and expense of finding childcare for a month and the government the expense of paying unemployment insurance to dozens of teachers, but that apparently would have sent the wrong message The Michigan Department of Education argued that the district created the problem through incompetence and must now pay the penalty (even if that means that children, parents and employees are the ones who actually pay).

The local school board could also have found a way to keep its schools open, but unanimously approved the closure. The board approved a “deficit reduction” plan they hope will appease the state and result in the release of funds for next school year. It also proposed a summer boot camp emphasizing standardized testing skills (to be paid for with federal funds) in lieu of normal instruction, Michigan Radio reported on Wednesday.

In late breaking news, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan approved the Buena Vista school board deficit reduction plan, allowing the district to start up again and finish the school year without having to resort to their boot camp plan, according to the Holland Sentinel. The district will also recall 27 laid-off teachers.

What remains unclear (probably deliberately so) are the details of the deficit reduction plan. Will pay and/or benefits be slashed for the 2013-2014 school year? Will course offerings be cut and the teaching and support staffs downsized? Will furlough days be imposed? Buena Vista may be out of the frying pan for the current school year, but back they students and teachers will likely be back into the fire next year.

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