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Heights School Board Questions Validity of State Takeover Comments, Gives Deficit Answer Timeline

Andrew Trzaska | November 14, 2011

School board members of Muskegon Heights Public Schools spoke out calmly at their meeting Monday against comments made by the head of a special state school district who implied the district could be taken over as soon as next school year.

In fact, they questioned not just the validity of the remarks but the haste with which the comments were published.

John Covington, chancellor of the state’s Education Achievement System, stated last week that he would like to see 38 school districts identified as the lowest-achieving in the state be folded into his system by the 2012-2013 school year; Muskegon Heights falls on this list.  The original plan was for Detroit schools to be added to the EAS in 2012-2013, and then other candidate schools at a later time.

This comes as the board, district superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant, the district’s auditors and representatives of other arms of the district will head to Lansing Wednesday to submit their deficit elimination plan for the coming school year.

The deficit elimination plan and this EAS discussion are two separate issues but would both be discussed with the State of Michigan in the coming days – the deficit reduction plan first on Wednesday – according to Dr. Bryant.

The Education Achievement System is a state initiative that would function like a school district but statewide and with some changes, especially in organizational structure.  Principals and parents would have more control over schools in each district.  Employees of any district brought under the EAS would have to reapply for their jobs and would then be employed by the EAS and not their respective district.

Dr. Bryant indicated at Monday’s meeting that the district has received no indication that Covington’s remarks were based in truth or just expressions of opinion:

“There has not been any legislation moving forward in terms of timelines and dates on this,” said Dr. Bryant.

Initial Covington Coverage: Too Little Detail, Too Fast?

Community and board comments at Monday’s meeting also portrayed the sentiment that area press coverage of the chancellor’s comments may have been premature and even irresponsible.

Local press ran Covington’s remarks about his desires for the EAS over the weekend without confirmation of the 2012 timeline.  Successful contact with school board president Avery Burrel or superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant was not made by press time.

Board members accepted several comments from the public and their own ranks that the publishing of those remarks caused anxiety among district families and staff.

Board vice president Ronald Jenkins acknowledged people’s fears and questioned the media’s handling of the comments: “Was the community going to be alarmed at that? They probably were.”

“I’ve gotten calls and texts saying the school is closing. I reassure them that nothing has been determined,” said Board president Avery Burrel. “We go to Lansing with our deficit elimination plan on [Wednesday] the 16th and then we’ll know.”

Superintendent Dr. Dana Bryant stated Monday that Wednesday’s state meeting would not produce answers the same day or even the next day.  He also stated the district is considering holding an open community forum to get the information out in the days following Wednesday’s meeting.

Burrel stated that the board would let the community know as soon as possible about the outcome of Wednesday’s meeting, but cautioned that the details would not be released hastily.

“We’ve got to make sure we do this thing correctly.”

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