MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) - The new emergency manager for Muskegon Heights Public Schools has sent out layoff notices to 158 district employees.
Emergency Manager Don Weatherspoon, who was appointed as the emergency manager by Gov. Rick Snyder on April 19, sent out the letters to employees Wednesday.
The 158 employees constitute every state employee within the district -- with the exception of some Head Start and preschool staff.
The letters cited "urgent financial circumstances surrounding the district," according to a release from the Muskegon Area ISD.
-- Read the layoff notice from Weatherspoon (pdf) --
Teacher aides, support staff and administrators received layoff notices. Some administrators and teachers were given notices of non-renewal of individual contracts.
Weatherspoon said that intent of both notices was the same but that state law requires the use of different language, according to the release.
The letter said Weatherspoon "regretted the uncertainty which results from the notice" but the "action is being taken to provide the flexibility required to accomplish the reorganization of the School District," the release stated.
The release said that Michigan Works representatives will be at the district on Friday to help staff file for unemployment benefits.
Under state law, emergency managers are given powers that regular administrators are not, like the power to void collective bargaining agreements.
-- Michigan law on emergency managers (pdf) --
The layoffs are effective June 8.
Tuesday, Weatherspoon laid out three decrees.
First, he detailed hat he has control over everything in the district and that the school board will now act in an advisory capacity only. He stressed in particular that he had the power to modify contracts and make personnel decisions.
He also suspended all travel to conferences and workshops unless he approved the trip in advance.
Finally, he authorized the sale of extra school district equipment and supplies. He said he would contract with an auction company to sell things under $50,000.
Also on Wednesday, three school board members - president Avery Burrel, vice president Ronald Jenkins and treasurer Ivory Morris - resigned.
Burrell characterized his resignation as a passing of the torch to the district's new leader.
"A lot of people look toward me for direction but it's time to look toward him," said Burrell.
Burrell said he felt that in order for the manager to be accepted as a leader, others needed to clear a path for him.
"We wanted to make sure the slate is kind of cleaned so they can kind of move forward, not looking back," said Burrell.
Burrell said he wanted to put aside any fears that the layoffs were a precursor to a shutdown of the district -- but he made clear that major cuts are certain.
"The district is going to look really different. There's a lot of changes that need to be made and, unfortunately, that's what he's here to do."
Muskegon Heights teachers union President Joy Robinson said in a Thursday statement that teachers would continue to do their best to help students learn.
"We consider this move to be part of the process of rebuilding the district," Robinson said in the statement. "The staff remains committed to the Heights and to working with the Emergency Manager to rebuild and right-size the district. Earlier this week, Dr. Weatherspoon called this period of adjustment a "rebirth." A rebirth is a time of excitement and hope and we want good things for Muskegon Heights students and community."
Facing a deficit of about $12 million for the coming fiscal year, the district asked for an emergency financial manager in December 2011.
At the time, the district was currently operating under a deficit budget for the sixth straight school year. School leaders estimated the current deficit at $9 million in December.
A state-appointed review team recommended that an emergency manager be installed in early April.
The teachers union has opposed the appointment of an emergency financial manager, saying that it has a plan to get the district back on track and that it needs more time.
But the review board said the district was out of time when it decided to recommend the appointment.
Muskegon Heights EFM
On Saturday, the Michigan State Spartans will be taking on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the Big Ten College Football title. On Friday, fans began gathering in Indianapolis for the big game.
Two Kalamazoo men are in jail after Kalamazoo officers found them with money stolen from Sunny Mart Friday afternoon.
Two people were taken to the hospital after one vehicle crossed the center line, causing a head-on crash in Ada Township Friday night.