Buena Vista School District lays off staff - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Buena Vista School District lays off staff

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(05/07/13) - Classes in Saginaw County's Buena Vista School District were canceled Tuesday because of huge financial problems.

Most district employees, including all teachers, have been laid off.

Last month, the state announced it would freeze payments to the school district because they had been overpaid more than $580,000. Then just last week, teachers learned the district was out of money and couldn't afford to pay them anymore.

Monday, teachers agreed to work the rest of the week without pay - looking out for the best interest of students - but Monday night, the school board decided to lay off employees, including all teachers, with no benefits. Every employee, with the exception of three top leaders - including the superintendent - are laid off, effective immediately.

The district has been struggling with declining enrollment, losing more than 200 students over the past two years.

The official state count for BV this year is 432 students.

Twenty-seven teachers work in the district's three schools. They include Doerr Elementary, the Phoenix Science and Technology Center and Buena Vista High School.

The superintendent of Carrollton Public Schools, a neighboring district, says he is absolutely heartbroken Buena Vista's students are in this position. Dr. Craig Douglas says now is not the time to play the 'blame game'.

Douglas feels a solution needs to be found - and quickly. Whether that's finding a way to re-open BV for the rest of the year, or whether it means students transferring to neighboring districts.

Carrollton Public Schools has laid out the 'welcome mat' depending on classroom space - and as long as a student doesn't have discipline problems.

"On a case by case basis, we'd look at that. I mean, we'd make that happen," Douglas said.

Parents would have to apply to the district through the 'School of Choice' program. So far, not a single parent has asked to enroll their student in Carrollton.

We checked in with Saginaw Public Schools as well. A spokesperson, at last check, says no one has tried to enroll there either.

The superintendent at the Saginaw Intermediate School District agrees this financial crisis couldn't happen at a worse time. Richard Syrek is telling parents to make a move - for their kids.

"You can't sit home," said Richard Syrek. "I would be calling some other districts and see what they would do. Now most of the time, Schools of Choice is closed at this point."

Syrek is hopeful the entire community will make sure no child is left behind - this late in the year.

"You're talking about seniors that need to graduate, and you're not that far from the end. And nobody, nobody wants that to happen," he said.

While there may be a lot of reasons BV is in this position,  Douglas believes it's an issue all districts need to pay close attention to.

"It reflects how dysfunctional our state funding is in general. I mean, we're all operating on less and less funding, yet everyone seems to think that it's just OK and it really isn't. And for the kids to have really, the rug pulled out from under them at this point and time, is, that's just incomprehensible, really," he said.

This isn't the first time a school district has had to close early because of money troubles.

Kalkaska closed three months early, back in 1993. More recently, Highland Park temporarily closed at the end of the last school year.

Former State Representative Ken Horn vividly remembers what happened in Highland Park last year.

"We had kids close to graduation or ending school that would have gone without diplomas. So we appropriated, through an emergency appropriation, of roughly $4,000 per pupil, and the money would follow the student," he said.

We checked in with the State Department of Education. A spokesperson says that department does not have any money to give BV. But, that doesn't mean money wouldn't be available from another state department.

Bottom-line, Horn believes it may be up to the state to step in, especially if a local solution isn't found soon.

Horn adds that a lot of districts are feeling the money crunch. In the last few years, he says the state has lost hundreds of thousands of people. That means tax revenue is shrinking, impacting everyone and everything from city governments to schools, and now our youngest citizens.

ABC12 also caught up with Representative Dan Kildee on Capitol Hill, Tuesday. His district includes Buena Vista Township.

Kildee says he's been in contact with the Governor and state lawmakers. He says they have to act fast.

"It's just not right for my constituents, people who live in my district, to pay taxes and do the right thing, and then because the adults in the system have failed to do their job, the kids are the one who pay the price," he said.

We did reach out to Representative Stacey Erwin-Oakes, whose district covers BV, to see what lawmakers are doing, but we weren't able to reach her.

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