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State Legislation Prompts School District to Take Action on Vacant Buildings

The Huron Valley School Board approved a motion to start the bid process for the demolition of Highland Middle School and Baker Elementary School.

Highland Township and Milford Township have until Dec. 4 to decide if they would like to buy the Huron Valley School District's two vacant buildings because of new state legislation. The school board started the bid process for demolition of the buildings as a result Thursday.

This legislation would require district to list vacant building on a statewide registry. Those buildings could then be offered, through the state, to charter schools, according to Kim Root, director of communitcation and community relations.

"We are moving on simultaneous tracks right now [talking to the townships about the sale, and bidding out the demolition of the buildings]," School Board President Sean Carlson said Monday. "We expect to get the bids back on Dec. 4 and will go from there."

In a letter to staff, Root explained the move.

"The HVS Board of Education conducted a special meeting on Thursday, November 15 to discuss pending legislation and its impact upon Highland Middle School and Baker Elementary. House Bill 6004 and Senate Bill 1358 are virtually the same and would establish, in statute, the Education Achievement Authority (EAA)," she said. "Most troubling to the HVS Board of Education, however, is a section of the bills that establishes a statewide registry of vacant buildings. School districts would be required to provide a list of their buildings meeting this description to the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) at least annually."

Root said that under this new legislation, the district would be required to maintain the buildings "in a condition that is suitable for use as a school building" while they are on the list. The bill states that eligible public schools can let the MDE know of their intent to lease or buy any listed building.

"Eligible schools are a charter school, a charter school authorizer, the EAA or a university school," Root said.

"Charter schools might have a place, but they don't have a place in the Huron Valley School District," Carlson said. "We have phenomenal staff, administration and parents that provide a quality education through our district. Charters don't play by the same rules."

Carlson said the legislation infringes on local control, "It's big government, and I hope our local senators and representatives vote against this unfunded mandate."

The board's action Thursday to start the bid process for demolition does not require the board to move to a contract for demolition, Root said.

"During the meeting, board members expressed concerns about the impact of the legislation on local control. It was also noted that the bills appear to be on the fast track, with the possibility of becoming law prior to the Legislature’s holiday recess. Therefore, the board felt that immediate and decisive action was necessary to allow HVS to control the disposition of its buildings," Root said.

Interim Superintendent Jim Baker said the district has talked with supervisor-elect Rick Hamill in Highland, and said that there might be some interest on the part of the township to further explore purchasing the building through the township's Downtown Development Authority - but that nothing has been officially discussed. Baker said the district is keeping both Highland Township officials and Milford officials in the loop on this latest news.

If both townships decided to pass on the option to purchase the buildings, Calrson said the district will move forward, "I don't want to prejudge, and I am only one board member, but it was our intent in June when we initially made the motion to offer the sale to the townships that if they refused we would move ahead with looking at the demolition of the buildings. That has not changed."

Wendy November 19, 2012 at 05:32 PM
http://dianeravitch.net/2012/08/20/the-big-business-of-charter-schools/ They have no choice!!
WatchDog November 19, 2012 at 08:22 PM
According to Mr Carlson, he has decided that "Charter Schools have no place in the Huron Valley School District": Wouldn't that choice be up to the citizens? And what "rules" is he referring to? This is a rush to judgment. The future of these buildings should be determined through a deliberate,public process. Mr Carlson should disclose any vested interest he is in the School District, not just the fact that he is the President of the HVSD.
John Holmes November 20, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Mr. Carlson- it sounds like your afraid of what a charter school has to offer. Who the "F" are you to tell everyone there's no place for a charter school? Who do think you are? The fact is, UNION TEACHERS don't play by the same rules as every other "non-union" business in this world. Many of the the Huron Valley Schools are WAY FAR down the list in school performance numbers. Look them up. Brooks Elementary is 1572 in the state. That's pathetic. I would send my two children to a charter school in a New York minute. I see you have the arrogance that our lovely Union teachers walk around with.....thinking they're god, that is. I hope someone sneaks in there and buys both of those schools, and turns them into education institutions that puts the other area schools to shame. I can only imagine how smug you are in person.
Tiffany Pagogna November 20, 2012 at 04:56 AM
"Charter schools might have a place, but they don't have a place in the Huron Valley School District,". Poor choice of words, Mr. Carlson. Makes it seem like you're afraid of the competition. If "charters don't play by the same rules", then our "phenomenal staff, administration and parents that provide a quality education through our district", should speak for itself. But hey, let's demolish some buildings instead to prove a point- and become the next Waterford...or Pontiac.
Laura Vogel November 20, 2012 at 03:28 PM
As a homeowner, I have to be honest to say that I would be less-than-pleased to have an empty/abandoned school building in my neighborhood. Having the building re-purposed would of course be ideal. Since the public school district has no projection for population/student-base growth, having a private/non-public school would probably be robbing Peter to pay Paul, wouldn't it? Or would enough families who choose to send their kids to e.g. St. Mary's or Ladywood choose, instead, a more local non-public school? If you demolish the buildings and convert the areas into a park/playground, there are already playgrounds there anyway since the building is/was a school, right? Who would maintain these parks/playgrounds? So perhaps demolishing the unused buildings and allowing the sites to be redeveloped with housing or light office/commercial buildings (like a dentist or music store, for example) is the next best choice. Either way -- the "keep it and sell it as a school" or the "demolish it and sell the land" -- the key is finding a willing buyer to avoid the sites continuing to be a financial drain on the local district operating budget. I don't know anything about the nuances of school district and municipal land ownership, so I can't speculate over whether e.g. "giving" the buildings to the surrounding municipalities of Milford and Highland would help at all.

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