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School district closes before academic year is over

The tiny Buena Vista School District in Michigan has laid off all but three staffers and is closing down now because it says it can’t afford to operate for the rest of the school year.  Though teachers in the  three-school district in Saginaw voted to keep working for free, officials decided they are keeping the schools closed unless some way out of the crisis can be found.

How did this happen? According to the website of the school district, the decision was made because of a combination of state funding cuts and a “severe drop” in enrollment. In 2010 there were 798 students; last fall there were 419, according to

Complicating the situation is the fact that the state is withholding aid payments, reported, because the district used $401,962.51 to educate students at an alternative facility called the Wolverine Secure Treatment Center who are not still enrolled in the district.

Teachers voted to keep working for free but liability issues persuaded officials not to take them up on their offer. Schools have been closed since last Friday.

What will happen to the students now enrolled? It’s not clear. The website says:

Buena Vista School District and its community of parents and stakeholders has a long tradition of pride and excellence. We pride ourselves on the caring and committed staff with which we are blessed and consider it our highest calling to be entrusted with the care and education of the community’s children.

Recent reductions in state school aid, combined with a severe drop in enrollment have created a situation where the District has not been able to get small enough fast enough. Adding to this problem is the fact that the District must return to the state funds related to the Wolverine Secure Treatment Center which it continued to receive after the program severed ties with the District in 2012. The District brought its receipt of these funds to the attention of the State during a meeting with state officials to discuss a draft of its deficit elimination plan in February. All of this came into focus when the State did not transmit the District’s April state school aid.

Upon noting that state school aid was not received in April as planned, the District made inquiry of the State and was told that state school aid for April, May and June would be withheld to recoup the funds that were mistakenly sent to the District. We remain in contact with officials at the State, the Intermediate School District and our surrounding districts. We have been told by State officials that a prerequisite to continuing dialogue is the District’s completion of a satisfactory deficit elimination plan. We are and have been working diligently to meet this requirement, and appreciate the technical assistance that State officials have provided regarding the deficit elimination plan.

1. Why have almost all staff been laid off?

With very few exceptions, the District has laid off its staff. This step is necessary due to the fact

that the District will not receive state school aid for April, May and June of 2013.

Due to the suddenness of the recoupment and the fact that it involves an embargo of all of the

District’s remaining state school aid for FY 13, which is the source of most of the District’s

revenue, there are no funds from which to draw in order to make payroll.

We brought this situation to the attention of staff just as soon as it could be responsibly

confirmed that there was no way, under current projections, payroll could be met. Although the

decision to undertake the layoffs was a difficult one, we believe the alternative would be grossly

unfair to staff, whom we value.

9057728.1 34518/157908

2. Will health insurance benefits be continued?

In addition to laying off most staff, the District has terminated its benefit plans (including health)

for all staff. As a self-funded district for health insurance purposes, the District has no funds to

use for payment of claims.

3. Teachers have offered to work for free until Friday, May 10. Why did the District

lay them off?

The dedication of our staff at all levels is unparalleled. We have heard their stories of daily

sacrifice in the care of students and believe they are entitled to the utmost respect. However, Michigan law requires that employers pay employees for work performed. We thank the teaching staff for their dedication, and understand their frustration. However, we must follow  the law. Over the past day, many staff who have been laid off have asked how they may volunteer their time. Staff who make the personal decision to do so should contact the District regarding the logistics of that volunteering. However, we must stress that under current circumstances, there is no ability to compensate staff for their services and there is no indication that there will be money for such compensation at any time in the future.

4. Does the District expect to recall any staff?

The District’s ability to recall staff will depend on whether it is able to receive any funds which it

can use for that purpose. Without funding, our ability to make payroll is nonexistent.

5. How will my son/daughter be able to finish the school year?

Under the current circumstances, there is no plan to re-hire staff to complete the current school year. This situation is a source of great pain for the school board and administration. Whatever the cause of the current financial crisis, it is not the children of the District. Through this process, we are doing our very best to meet all requirements of the State, so that we can ascertain if assistance in the form of funding could be forthcoming. However, we must be clear that at this point, the District has spent all of the state aid it is entitled to receive for FY 13.

6. Will there be a school district next year?

It is impossible for us to predict whether the District will be in a position to enroll students next year. During this period of time, all of our efforts are being directed toward an attempt to secure as smooth a completion of the current year as possible, given the circumstances.

7. How should teachers and staff obtain their belongings from their classrooms and

work areas?

9057728.1 34518/157908

The District buildings will remain open and, we understand, the Principals have volunteered to

remain in their buildings, on an unpaid basis, into the indefinite future. Staff should report to

their building principals and, in an orderly fashion, collect their belongings. Additionally, staff should turn in, to their building principal, their school-issued items, such as keys, phones, laptops, etc.

For the sake of order, we ask that these tasks be completed by Friday, May 10, 2013.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · May 8, 2013

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