Legislators still tinkering with school policies

Even though SB 1040 couldn’t get anywhere in yesterday’s one-day legislative session, some other bills affecting school districts and school employees did.

SB 1113-1114 passed unanimously in the Senate. The bills would require school districts to adopt a policy addressing child sexual abuse. While the policy is mandatory, school districts have leeway on selecting an age-appropriate curriculum for students and specific training for school employees. Districts could also provide counseling and resources for sexual abuse victims. Parents would have the option of removing their child from instruction on the subject.

The bills also establish a Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children which has 180 days to make recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature on ways to reduce child sexual abuse. The bill now moves to the House. MEA supported the bills.

HB 5566-5570 weren’t as well-received, but still begrudgingly passed the Senate.

The bills are an offshoot of PA 4—the Emergency Manager law—and allows school districts to borrow money on a short-term from the state to pay off their debts. Technically, four school districts are impacted—Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Highland Park and Pontiac. Muskegon Heights and Highland Park are under the control of an Emergency Manager.  Benton Harbor avoided an Emergency Manager because of employee concessions.  Pontiac’s finances are being reviewed as a first step toward takeover by an Emergency Manager.

There was concern among Senators that the bills would establish a ready pool of funds for school districts to rely on. But the fact that the four districts need financial help by Aug. 16 or face bankruptcy moved the vote 29-8 with amendments. Also, without the loans, the ability of other school districts to borrow money to meet payroll could be impacted.

Only school districts experiencing low tax growth, a decline in property values, a loss of 15 percent of students, exhaustion of all millage levies, and under an Emergency Manager or consent agreement are eligible for the loans. They will have 30 years to pay it back.

The House concurred with the changes.