“I encourage the local school board, administration, and staff to get the schools open as soon as possible for the students,” Mike Flanagan, the state school superintendent, said in a statement.
The school board president, Randy L. Jackson, said some students might be able to return to classrooms as soon as Friday. It is unclear if the school year will be extended to make up the days lost since the school system shut May 6.
With six weeks remaining on the school calendar, the tiny, low-performing district near Saginaw ran out of money and abruptly closed its doors last week, cutting loose about 400 students from kindergarten through high school.
The school district asked the state for a bailout, but Michigan officials initially declined, citing legal obstacles. Teachers offered to work without pay to keep the schools open, but the school board refused, offering its own legal reasons. Meetings were held in the small community and at the state capital. Parents fumed.
“Get our kids to school,” Emmitt Jones, the father of a ninth-grader, told the school board at a special meeting Tuesday evening.
Deborah Hunter-Harvill, the superintendent, proposed using federal and state funds to pay for a “skills camp” that children from grades one through 11 could voluntarily attend four days a week.
But Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.) said the children deserve more.
“My goal from the very beginning is just to get these kids back in school,” Kildee said. “Get these kids with their teacher, in their classroom, to finish the school year. Four hundred kids just can’t be left to fend for themselves and have the adults fail and kids pay the price.”
Such insolvency for a school district is rare: Of the nation’s 12,500 public school districts, about half a dozen run out of money in the middle of the school year, said Mike Griffith, an analyst at the Education Commission of the States. Griffith said some schools threaten to shut down early to get additional state funds; others close a week or two early.
“There have been cases, though, when school districts run out of money halfway through the school year because of mismanagement issues,” Griffith said. “A lot of times, they tend to be smaller districts that, for one reason or another, didn’t understand their problems, didn’t correctly set their budget or made no adjustments during the year.”
Although Buena Vista’s crisis might be partially self-inflicted — Kildee and others have accused the school board of mismanaging its finances — dozens of other school districts in Michigan also are teetering toward insolvency. State officials have identified nearly 50 school districts that are running deficits.