House rams through bills to dissolve school districts without transferring employees

After the chair of the House Education Committee referred to school employees as “hogs,” Republicans in the state House rammed through legislation late Thursday night that would dissolve the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts and leave employees in those dissolved districts without the right to a job in the receiving districts.

Under House Bill 4813 and House Bill 4815, the state superintendent and state treasurer could decide to dissolve a troubled school district if the district fails to submit a deficit reduction plan or is financially incapable of implementing such a plan; lacks the funds necessary to run a K-12 program for a year of required instructional hours; and has 2,500 students or fewer and lost at least 10 percent of its students over the course of a year.

The legislation is crafted so that only Buena Vista and Inkster qualify for dissolution. Initially, it would have applied to any school district in the state, but MEA successfully fought to have it narrowed.

A dissolved district’s students and property would be transferred to one or more nearby districts.

School employees in the dissolved districts would not have rights to jobs in the receiving district — even though their district dissolved through no fault of their own. The legislation initially protected school employees in the dissolved districts by providing them with the right of first refusal for jobs in the receiving district, but an amendment by state Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekama, stripped away all employee protections.

Franz’s amendment was fully supported by House Education Committee Chairwoman Lisa Lyons, R-Alto. In response to school employees’ concerns, Lyons said from the House floor: “Pigs get fat — hogs get slaughtered.”

State Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes, D-Saginaw, a former teacher whose district includes Buena Vista, criticized the Republican leadership for rushing the bill without proper examination.

“This isn't something that can be done overnight,” she said. “We need to have a sincere conversation on how we arrived at this point.”

The Senate is expected to take up the bills next week before leaving for its summer vacation.

Other key elements of the legislation include:

  • The intermediate school district overseeing the local district would oversee the dissolution. However, ISDs could recuse themselves from the process, transferring authority to the state.
  • The ISD or the state would have to consider the number of students being transferred to another district or districts, including how many of those students receive free or reduced lunch.
  • Thanks to lobbying efforts from MEA’s Public Affairs team, a receiving school district would not have to count its new students’ test scores for three years afterward when determining Adequate Yearly Progress or “top to bottom” calculations.
  • Also thanks to MEA, a receiving school district could not use the test scores of students from the dissolved school district as a factor in employee evaluations for three years.