LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law Tuesday laying the groundwork for two deficit-ridden Michigan school districts to be closed before the fall and for their students to be sent to schools nearby.
The law is intended to address struggling K-12 districts in the Detroit and Saginaw areas, but it could affect more districts in the future.
The measure lets the state's school superintendent and treasurer dissolve a district under certain circumstances, including if it doesn't submit a deficit-elimination plan or submits one but lacks the ability to implement it. Other prerequisites include a finding that the district isn't financially viable, has 300 to 2,400 students (exempting larger districts) and loses at least 10 percent of its enrollment from the previous school year.
The Inkster and Buena Vista districts face the prospect of not having enough money to reopen for classes in September. Snyder said the state will move quickly this summer to inform those districts' students what to expect in the new academic year.
"We're talking days, not months," he said.
The Republican governor blamed the districts' problems on dropping enrollment and mismanagement. He announced the creation of a workgroup to recommend ways to detect earlier the potential for districts to run into serious financial problems. The group is expected to report back within two months.
Buena Vista School District near Saginaw was forced to shut its doors for nearly two weeks in May after running out of money to pay teachers.
"This is not the best way to do things, in terms of having it come down to essentially a near crisis environment about a school staying open or closed," Snyder said during a news conference at his Lansing office. "I want to get ahead of this and be more forward-looking."
Michigan has a law allowing the state to appoint an emergency manager to oversee a financially struggling school district, but Snyder said he wants the workgroup to consider whether the state should be looking at financial projections for districts three years in advance. He and others applauded voters in the Ypsilanti and Willow Run districts for deciding to merge.
"The sooner you catch these things, the more opportunity you have to avoid them," he said.
Democrats in the Legislature opposed the legislation in part because they wanted provisions ensuring displaced teachers would get first crack at jobs in adjacent districts based on seniority. Some also have blamed Republicans for not funding schools adequately.
The law is expected to cost the state up to $9 million in the first year.
Also Tuesday, Snyder said he would appoint a team on Wednesday to review the finances of Pontiac Public Schools. The review ultimately could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager or other measures for the Oakland County district grappling with a $37 million budget deficit.
Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights are the three Michigan school districts with emergency managers.
"It actually is a big day in one regard and somewhat of a solemn day in another that we even had to go through this when we have other examples out there of people being proactive for their kids," said Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton, sponsor of the legislation.