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Michigan school district can't make payroll, lays off staff

By Erinn Cawthon, CNN
updated 8:54 PM EDT, Tue May 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Michigan school district lays off most of its staff this week
  • It's unclear whether there will be money to complete the school year
  • The closing of a treatment center is part of the funding problem

(CNN) -- A Michigan school district decided to lay off most of its staff, including teachers, and cut benefits this week due to budget woes.

The Buena Vista School District in Saginaw will retain only the superintendent, an executive assistant and accounts payable. Classes were canceled Tuesday, and staff members may volunteer to work for free until Friday, according to a statement on the school district's website. Beyond that, it is unclear whether there will be money to complete the academic year, scheduled to end June 13, the website said.

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Harvill could not comment on what will happen to the students.

"I am committed to helping to try and eradicate issues we've had as a district," Harvill told CNN. "We're working on a plan to educate our children for the remaining weeks of school and make sure students graduate."

It is also unclear whether the district will operate next school year.

"It is impossible for us to predict whether the district will be in a position to enroll students next year. During this period of time, all of our efforts are being directed toward an attempt to secure as smooth a completion of the current year as possible, given the circumstances," the website statement said.

The money problems are tied in part to the Wolverine Secure Treatment Center, a treatment program for juvenile delinquent males ages 12 to 21. The school district used to operate the program and received state funds to do so, said Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Education. The district stopped operating the center earlier this academic year but continued to receive state money, she said.

Once the Education Department learned that the district was no longer running the center, the state stopped sending the funds, Ellis said. The district must return the funds for the center it has already received, the school district's website said.

In addition, the district's deficit ballooned from $50,000 to more than $1 million, and enrollment declined from 960 students to 435, Ellis said.

"Recent reductions in state school aid, combined with a severe drop in enrollment, have created a situation where the district has not been able to get small enough fast enough," the district's statement said.

Despite the setbacks, Harvill is not giving up.

"I'm not going to get off the ship until I do something to save my kids!" she said.

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