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Cash strapped Highland Park school board defends 6 figure consultant pay

Posted at 6:25 PM, Jun 18, 2018

A school district recently under financial emergency is now paying a consultant a 6 figure salary to oversee operations.

“I don’t consider it a raise. I was underpaid to start,” says Kevin Smith, who formerly worked as a state appointed emergency manager for Highland Park Public Schools. 

Smith admits he doesn’t have a degree in education and is not an expert on classroom studies. Yet, his salary of $120,000 was approved in a 5-2 vote by the school board last April.

Smith’s term of emergency manager that began in October 2016, had just ended. 

“I’m a finance attorney, former DPS Chief of Staff, and former general counsel for HP Schools,” says Smith.

He was also the only person interviewed for the new consulting position.

School board member Linda Wheeler says there was no time to interview other candidates and the pay is far.

Smith tells us, “First ,I was focused on finances, but now it’s to fix the district.”

The state is also onboard. We obtained documents showing Michigan taxpayers still pay half of Smith’s salary. The district pays the other half.

But, Highland Park Schools has just one K-8 charter School with 350 students That school is not run by Smith, but instead by a charter management company known as the Leona Group. 

Smith tells us he’s put together a new plan to rebuild the district, and open a new high school.

He’s also working to pay off $19 million in long term debt, and create other improvements.

Among his critics, board member Teresa Kelly says transparency has fallen short.

“He doesn’t say how they're going to grow the population,” says Kelly.

So far, as emergency manager Smith has eliminated $3 million in debt, struck deals with creditors and settled legal disputes.

But even he admits an end to debt payments won’t come till 2041. 

“We run a $1.1 million surplus after expenses, and we apply that surplus to pay creditors,” says Smith.

So far, the majority of the board stands behind their decision to retain the former EM. However, we’ll be making sure promises to students and parents are kept.