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Muskegon Heights schools to be replaced with charters?

Both MIRS News and the Grand Rapids Press are reporting that the emergency manager running schools in Muskegon Heights has proposed replacing the public school district with a network of charter schools.

The emergency manager, Donald Weatherspoon, is proposing the conversion as part of his solution for the school district’s financial problems. The district’s debt, currently $12.4 million, will remain with the rump school district, which will have only one or two employees, including Weatherspoon. All other staff would have to apply with the charter schools for jobs. About leaving the debt with the public district, Weatherspoon said that he wanted to give the new charters a fresh start.

Weatherspoon said that he proposed having the school district – of which he is in total control – authorize the charter network. (Networks of charter schools run by one board were permitted for the first time in the recent legislation which also removed the cap on university-sponsored charters.) Acting in place of the elected Muskegon Heights school board, Weatherspoon would then appoint the board of the charter network. It’s unclear what would happen when, and if, the local school district emerges from emergency management.

To retire the debt of the current school district, existing and possibly new property tax levies would be used to retire current obligations. (Charter schools do not have local taxing authority and receive their entire funding from the state.)

This is the first such proposal in the state, no doubt partly because the legal tools were not available until recently. State Treasurer Andy Dillon and State Superintendent Michael Flanagan must still approve the plan before it moves forward.

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