Confusion between state and district puts future in question - WNEM TV 5

Confusion between state and district puts future in question

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If the Buena Vista School situation wasn't confusing enough, a special board meeting Tuesday night helped fuel the question whether the district will ever be back.

On Tuesday afternoon, Buena Vista students, parents and staff couldn't help but be positive about Michigan State Superintendent Mike Flanagan's word about the district's future.

"Encourage them, push them to get a plan in, and then the state aid will follow," said Flanagan.

In an interview with TV5, Flanagan said the Buena Vista School Board needed to approve the district's latest deficit elimination plan, and once the board did, he'd likely sign off on it.  That could mean students could go back to class.  But Tuesday night, there was what seemed to be a clear disconnect between the district and the state.

"Right now, it's my understanding that the traditional school program is not an option, so that's what my impression is, unless there's something different," said Buena Vista School Board President Randy Jackson.

The board did vote yes on the deficit elimination plan but also voted to approve a skills enhancement camp that would act as a voluntary schooling program for students in the district.  Multiple times at Tuesday night's meeting, Buena Vista Superintendent Deborah Hunter-Harvill and board members told the community that passing those two things were necessary to have state funds unlocked and to get children back in the doors, even if it is on a voluntary basis.

"I feel like we've been held hostage.  Again, if we have an approvable deficit elimination plan, provide the temporary relief funds based on that," said Jackson.

But Flanagan said all the district had to do Tuesday night is to approve the deficit elimination plan.  The skills enhancement camp was simply a backup plan.

"The first priority is to get the state aid resolved.  So if the board does what we asked them to do, and that's approve the deficit elimination plan, I think I'll be able to approve that deficit elimination plan and I think we'll be in the spot where we can approve traditional school," said Flanagan.

The confusion causes many continued questions, but with the actions Tuesday night and the statements from Flanagan Tuesday afternoon, on the surface, it does appear Buena Vista is on the right path to receiving funding once again. 

TV5 still does not know when students may return to class.  But on Tuesday night, the board did vote to graduate all grade level students to the next grade.

State Representitive Stacy Erwin Oakes released a statement regarding the situation, saying "We all agree that Buena Vista officials mismanaged the district's finances and should have rectified the situation, but two wrongs don't make a right," said Oakes. "The state shouldn't have held the district's feet to the fire to approve this poorly devised ‘skills camp.' The state needs to uphold its constitutional obligation to provide these children with a public education. Once these students are able to finish the school year everyone can sit down and establish a sustainable plan for managing the district's finances. The Governor frequently references the phrase ‘relentless positive action.

 Sitting on your hands while these children don't have a school to go to isn't relentless or positive and the voluntary ‘skills camp' raise far more questions than it answers. These children need to finish the school year with the teachers and peers they've worked with all semester. Something we would all be adamant about if these were our children. The real issue here, the reason the Governor doesn't support appropriating emergency funding from the rainy day or the school aid fund, is that he believes austerity measures are more important than the state's constitutional obligation to provide every child with a public education," said Oakes. "We shouldn't be penalizing the children of Buena Vista."  

Congressman Dan Kildee has also been very vocal about the situation in the Buena Vista school district. He issued this statement on Tuesday. "The state needs to review the school board approved deficit elimination plan Wednesday and immediately finalize a solution to get these students back in their school. The state's top priority should be getting Buena Vista kids back in the classroom where they belong."

WNEM will continue to follow this story and will continue to provide updates as new information is learned.

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