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Published: Saturday, 1/28/2012

Michigan takes over district

Highland Park schools under emergency manager


LANSING -- Saddled with budget deficits and declining enrollment, the Highland Park School District on Friday became the latest public entity in Michigan to get a state-appointed emergency manager because of struggling finances.

Gov. Rick Snyder said that he's confirmed his determination that a financial emergency exists in the school district in a Detroit enclave.

Governor Snyder named Jack Martin, a former U.S. Department of Education chief financial officer, as the district's emergency manager. The appointment takes effect Monday.

Emergency managers also are in place in the Detroit public school system and the cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, and Pontiac.

The city of Detroit is working to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager as a state review of its finances continues.

Appointments of emergency managers have become more scrutinized and controversial in the past year because of a new state law that gives them more authority.

Emergency managers can strip power from locally elected leaders and toss out union contracts in some situations.

Mr. Snyder had warned that without state intervention the Highland Park School District could close by the end of February, so the appointment of an emergency manager was expected. A state review determined the district's cumulative deficit had increased by 51 percent over the past fiscal year to $11.3 million.

A major problem has been declining enrollment.

The school district had more than 3,000 students in 2006 but is estimated to have fewer than 1,000 now. Much of a school district's funding in Michigan is directly tied to its number of students.

The governor, the school district's superintendent, and a representative of the teachers union also said that they were concerned about students' welfare.

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