Buena Vista School District to dissolve following budget cuts and mismanagement

Calamitous cuts to education funding and gross financial mismanagement by state and local officials have led to the official dissolution of the Buena Vista School District.

The exact fate of Buena Vista students and school employees remains unknown.

State Treasurer Andy Dillon and State Superintendent Mike Flanagan had given Buena Vista officials until 5 p.m. Monday to find outside financing to help operate the Saginaw-area district for the upcoming school year. The deadline came and went, and the planned dissolution will proceed.

“We reached out to banks, entrepreneurs ... philanthropists,” Buena Vista School District Superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill told the Detroit Free Press. “We have not been able to get anyone to say they’ll give us a loan. It’s as simple as that.”

Inkster Public Schools will also dissolve after officials there were unable to secure financing to keep the district running.

Officials in the state Department of Education and the state treasurer’s office will now work with the intermediate school districts that cover Buena Vista and Inkster to move students to receiving school districts.

The Saginaw Intermediate School District will hold a public hearing Wednesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. at Buena Vista High School, 3945 E. Holland Road in Saginaw, to discuss transfer plans.

Students, school employees and families in the Buena Vista School District are the innocent victims of what’s been a tragic combination of fiscal irresponsibility and misplaced budget priorities.

Upon taking office in 2011, Snyder and his allies in the Legislature cut $1 billion from K-12 funding, just to help pay for a $1.8-billion tax break for corporate special interests. The deep cuts to K-12 funding placed school districts across Michigan in a precarious situation — administrators in Buena Vista made the situation even worse through their inept financial practices.

Despite the fact that a state-funded juvenile justice program left the district, the Buena Vista School District continued to receive funding from the state for the program — and spent those state funds. Upon discovering the error this spring, the state decided to punish students and school employees for the district and its own financial mismanagement, and immediately stopped sending school aid payments for April, May and June to make up for the overpayment.

The district ran out of money as a result. The school district shut down on May 6, and didn’t reopen until May 20. Teachers had offered to work without the promise of a paycheck to avoid a shutdown, but their selfless offer fell on deaf ears.

It wasn’t the first time Buena Vista teachers had offered to sacrifice their own livelihoods for the sake of their students. They had already agreed to freeze their own pay for the past four years, and the number of teachers dropped by more than half since 2009, down to 28.

In June, the Legislature passed bills to dissolve the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts. Along the way, legislators dealt a final slap in the face to those selfless Buena Vista teachers by amending the bills to leave them without the guarantee of jobs in the receiving districts.

House Bill 4813 initially protected school employees in the dissolved districts by providing them with the right of first refusal for jobs in the receiving district. However, a last-minute 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 Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto.

In response to school employees’ concerns, Lyons said from the House floor: “Pigs get fat — hogs get slaughtered.”

“What on earth has Michigan sunk to?” the Detroit Free Press asked in an editorial published Tuesday. “Slashing public education to the extent we have, allowing districts to stumble into huge financial holes, then simply dissolving them as a ‘solution’ to the problem. This is the kind of abdication and neglect we used to ridicule in other states; now, we’re the butt of the jokes.”