Thursday, May 12, 2011

EFMs, schools concern residents at April Town Hall with Casperson, Huuki

Michigan State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and State Rep. Matt Huuki (Atlantic Mine) answer a question on Emergency Financial Managers during the April 23 Town Hall meeting at Michigan Tech. (Photo courtesy Allan Baker)

By Michele Bourdieu

HOUGHTON -- Michigan State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and State Rep. Matt Huuki (Atlantic Mine) recently supported budget bills that would slash funding for schools in order to fund a $1.8 billion business tax break. Their budget priorities seem to contradict what they told local residents at an April 23, 2011, Town Hall meeting -- namely that schools in the Upper Peninsula would not reach such a low financial state that they would need an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) -- in other words, that they did not have the problems of schools in Detroit -- many of which have been closed or taken over by an EFM.

In the House, Huuki voted to pass a controversial budget bill that would slash funding for K-12 schools and higher education by nearly $800 million to pay for a $1.8 billion tax break for corporate special interests.*

In the State Senate, according to Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, Casperson joined his Republican caucus in supporting drastic cuts to local schools, choosing to plummet roughly 150 school districts into bankruptcy in order to fund a $1.8 billion business tax break. Calumet Public Schools alone will be facing a $1,249,868 slash in funding. Houghton stands to lose up to $221,860.

At the April 23rd Town Hall meeting, local resident Evan Dixon pointed out how Emergency Financial Managers (EFMs) take away the right of the people to govern themselves. The EFMs are being put in place by a Republican government, he noted, despite the fact that Republicans have spoken against "big government."

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Local resident Evan Dixon speaks about Emergency Finance Managers as examples of Republican "big government" during the April 23, 2011, Town Hall meeting with State Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and State Rep. Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine). (Video clips courtesy Allan Baker)

When Casperson spoke about problems in the Detroit schools that even the EFM hasn't been able to fix, retired teacher Jerry Perreault asked which schools in the Upper Peninsula might be in a low enough financial state to be taken over by an EFM. Casperson and Huuki gave the impression none were in that serious a state.

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During the April 23 Town Hall meeting with legislators, residents discuss the situation of the Detroit public schools and express concerns about Upper Peninsula schools.

Some Houghton County Democrats have recently expressed concern that both Hancock and Ewen Trout Creek school districts have possibly been targeted for EFMs.

Another discussion at the Town Hall meeting concerned collective bargaining. One resident, who did not identify himself or his school district, spoke at length about the difficulty of being on a school board and trying to negotiate with teachers, who were represented by their union.

Terry LaJeunesse of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), a retired teacher, replied that he was a part of that negotiation, that it was at the E.B. Holman School and that teachers there have made concessions and even taken salary cuts in order to avoid an EFM. He also noted teachers' salaries in the Upper Peninsula are considerably lower than those of downstate teachers.

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Terry LaJeunesse of the Michigan Education Association talks about collective bargaining for teachers.

The recent law strengthening the authority of Emergency Financial Managers is the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act -- Act 4 of 2011. It is described as follows:

"AN ACT to safeguard and assure the fiscal accountability of units of local government, including school districts; to preserve the capacity of units of local government to provide or cause to be provided necessary services essential to the public health, safety, and welfare; to provide for review, management, planning, and control of the financial operation of units of local government and the provision of services by units of local government, including school districts; to provide criteria to be used in determining the financial condition of units of local government, including school districts; to permit a declaration of the existence of a local government financial emergency and to prescribe the powers and duties of the governor, other state departments, boards, agencies, officials, and employees, and officials and employees of units of local government, including school districts; to provide for placing units of local government, including school districts, into receivership; to provide for a review and appeal process; to provide for the appointment and to prescribe the powers and duties of an emergency manager; to require the development of financial and operational plans to regulate expenditures, investments, and the provision of services by units of local government, including school districts, in a state of financial stress or financial emergency; to provide for the modification or termination of contracts under certain circumstances; to set forth the conditions for termination of a local government financial emergency; and to repeal acts and parts of acts."**

*Click here for the May 5, 2011, House Bill 4325 (Appropriations: K-12, colleges and universities ) (House Roll Call 102) (All Democrats and a few Republicans voted against it.)

** Click here for the text of Act 4 of 2011.

See Progress Michigan for a map on potential emergency managers in Michigan.

Editor's Notes: This is the second in a series of articles on the April 23, 2011, Town Hall meeting with State legislators Casperson and Huuki in Houghton. Click here for the first article, "At Houghton Town Hall meeting local elected officials attack federal regulation of gas drilling, mining."

The Western Upper Peninsula Community Action Team is sponsoring a rally to support local schools at noon this Saturday, May 14, at Veteran's Park in Houghton. Click here for details.

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