Michigan School District Lays Off Teachers, Closes School

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Michigan School District Lays Off Teachers, Closes School
For students in Buena Vista in Michigan, the district's closing has been devastating, with all of the teachers laid off and campuses shuttered.
Students have found themselves out of school in the small district of Buena Vista in Michigan. Unfortunately, the impromptu vacation in a district made up of mostly minority and low-income students had nothing to do with the up and coming summer vacation. Buena Vista students have found themselves without a school to go to because the district has run out of money. Now, teachers are without a job, income or benefits, and students are left wondering whether they will be able to officially complete their current school year.
 
A Financial Emergency
 
According to mLive, parents and students received almost no advance notice that schools in the district would be closing. On May 6, district officials decided to close the schools and lay off all the teachers in the midst of what they called a “financial emergency” under Michigan law. A letter on the district website announced the district-wide closure to parents and students on the morning of May 7, the day the schools closed their doors.
 
The district states in the letter that it is declaring a financial emergency under Michigan Public Act 436 of 2012. That financial emergency stems in part from state money the district accepted for funding of Wolverine Secure Treatment Center, an alternative high school that is no longer in operation. When the state required the district to pay back the $402,000, it was discovered district officials had already spent the money and did not have funds in the coffers to reimburse the state.
 
Offer by Teachers to Work for Free Rejected
 
The Huffington Post reports that the 27 teachers in Buena Vista met on May 6 after learning the news of the district’s financial difficulties. The teachers agreed to continue teaching without pay, to ensure their students did not have a disruption in their school year. However, that decision was not an easy one for many of the district teachers who were facing their own financial challenges. One teacher noted by the Huffington Post was getting ready to send her son to college, and wasn’t sure how his tuition would be paid in light of the district’s news.
 
Despite that decision by teachers, mLive reports in a second articles that the Buena Vista School District opted to lay off all the teachers in the district, and cancelled classes at all schools. Jo Ann Nash, president of the local teacher’s union, told mLive, “We voted to continue working. And they voted to lay us off anyway.”
 
Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook, voiced his displeasure with the district’s decision, saying, “Aside from the time to come up with a solution with the state, the Buena Vista Education Association and the MEA offered up our professional assistance in coming up with a plan that would help lead the district out of deficit. Tonight’s clear response? Thanks, but no thanks.”
 
The district explained their decision by saying Michigan law requires employers to pay employees for services performed. Although the district voiced appreciation for the teachers’ dedication, the district website states that district officials must “follow the law.” Yahoo News states that in addition to losing their paychecks, Buena Vista teachers have lost all of their benefits, including health insurance.
 
Students Left in Limbo
 
With the sudden closure of all the district schools, the more than 400 students in the district are left in limbo. Parents are looking for alternatives in nearby districts to ensure their students will be able to finish out the current school year, which is not scheduled to end until June 13. The district has also tried to find another option for students, which included moving students to nearby Saginaw County, according to a separate report in the Huffington Post. However, financial constraints have left district officials looking at a dead end where its students are concerned.
 
The problem was particularly troublesome for high school seniors in Buena Vista, who were left with uncertainty about their ability to graduate on time. These students are now wondering whether they will get to see any of the rites of passage typically enjoyed by high school seniors – prom, graduation and the ability to pursue higher education after high school.
 
“It’s tragic,” Rae’Onna Barabino, this year’s valedictorian at Buena Vista High School, told the Huffington Post. “We have to worry about prom and graduation and ending our year. It’s very confusing, upsetting. It’s also heartbreaking.”
 
Barabino added that she is planning to attend Eastern Michigan University in the fall to study nursing. Now, she is unsure whether her plans will be able to proceed.
 
Graduation Passed, but Ceremonies Uncertain
 
The good news is that Buena Vista district officials have passed a resolution to allow the class of 2013 to graduate, which means their plans after high school will continue. However, that vote did not ensure students will enjoy their year-end celebrations many had been looking forward to for months and even years.
 
At this point, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next in the Buena Vista School District. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has had little comment on the problem at this point, other than to say a bailout of the district would “set a dangerous precedent.” But many are confident they know where the blame for this education fiasco lies.
 
“We will remind [Snyder and other state lawmakers] where the real fault lies,” Cook was quoted saying at mLive. “With gross mismanagement and misguided priorities on the part of both this school district and the state politicians and bureaucrats involved in robbing the education and the future of 400 innocent students.”

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