A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Seven years after then-Emergency Financial Manager Howard Morris left Inkster Public Schools with a balanced budget, the school district is blaming him for its current financial deficit.

Inkster submitted a deficit-reduction plan to the Michigan Department of Education when it fell into deficit in 2011-2012. On the form, the state asks what caused the deficit. Inkster’s response: “Management by an emergency financial manager, compounded by a formal dispute the district lost in arbitration.”

In fact, Inkster Public Schools’ financial troubles got better only when it had an emergency financial manager.

The school district ended the 2010-2011 school year $10.5 million in debt.

Morris served as the emergency financial manager for Inkster Public Schools from 2002-2005. He left in August 2005.

Finance Manager Kelley Howey said the emergency manager’s pay was based on whether the district showed a profit. Because of that, she said a lot of repairs to buildings were neglected and the fire marshal came in and closed several buildings. She said it was “several million” in repairs. Howey said the current deficit-reduction plan has been approved by school district and state officials.

When contacted, Morris said it was hard to see how he could be responsible.

“To say seven years after someone was there, they are responsible ... on its face, it doesn’t seem plausible,” Morris said.

Morris said he shut down schools due to dwindling enrollment and didn’t include maintenance to buildings among his budget cuts.

According to the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information, Inkster spent $2.1 million, $2.1 million and $2.3 million on operations and maintenance in Morris’ three years as emergency financial manager. In 2010-2011, the district spent $2.6 million on operations and maintenance, or about the same as what Morris spent when the cost of inflation is factored in.

Inkster had $16.3 million in general fund expenditures in 2004-2005 when it spent $2.3 million on operations and maintenance and had $31.3 million in general fund expenditures in 2010-2011 when it spent $2.6 million on operations and maintenance.

Operations and maintenance include salaries and employee benefits, supplies, property and purchased services.

The district spent $4.8 million on operations and maintenance in 2008-2009.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, Inkster Public Schools was in debt in 1997-1998 ($1.4 million), 1998-1999 ($1.9 million) and 1999-2000 ($1.7 million).

In 2002-2003, Morris took over as the emergency manager. The next school year, the district was $135,186 in debt, but it was debt-free in 2004-2005 and the year after he left in 2005-2006. Inkster was back in deficit in 2006-2007 and has been in the red ever since.

Morris said he was surprised Inkster was in trouble financially because its enrollment is increasing.

Inkster’s student population has increased from 1,172 in 2004-2005 to 2,965 in 2010-2011.

With twice as many students comes twice as much operating funding. Yet Inkster still was in the red.

“You know what causes that?” Morris said. “Overspending.”

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See also:

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Coverage of School District Claiming Cuts

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