Whitmer’s vetoes “crippling” small northern Michigan school districts

GRAND MARAIS — Earlier this week Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the budget to avoid a partial government shut down, but vetoed 147 line items in the process. One of those line-items was the Small, Isolated District funding, also known as the “Saving Paradise” fund, which provides $7 million to school districts that are located in remote areas.

The fund helps support five districts around northern Michigan, including the Whitefish Township School District in Paradise, Detour Village, Mackinac Island, Beaver Island, and the Burt Township School District in Grand Marais.

Now, these five districts will be forced to make tough decisions without that additional funding, and for Burt Township, that accounts for approximately 20-25% of their total revenue.

“Those school districts really rely on the Small, Isolated District dollars to put together a budget that is able to meet the educational needs of our students,” said Gregory Nyen, the Superintendent of the Burt Township School District. “Without those dollars, for some of these school districts, it will be crippling.”

While Burt Township school district will be able to remain open for the remainder of this year with their current remaining funds, the future of the school district remains a question. If funding is not restored, the school could close down, or they’ll be forced to make drastic cut backs.

“As I understand it right now, our options right now would be to either convert to a K-6 and reduce our expenses, and of course our biggest expense comes in the form of staff members,” said Nyen. “Those staff members are part of the heart of this community, and so those would be very difficult decisions, but our options would not be all-together great.”

If the school does have to close down, students would be forced to ride a bus to either the Newberry school district which is 50 miles away, or to the Munising school district which is just over 60 miles away. The commute to the school districts that are much further away could cause travel times of up to two hours to or from school, and potentially longer during the winter time.

The superintendents of these 5 school districts have worked together to contact their representatives in the Michigan Legislature to try to get this problem addressed when negotiations between the governor and the legislature resume, though there is no timetable for when that will happen as of right now.

“I think the most challenging part of this conversation is last year our township, the people of Grand Marais, voted to support a bond, a millage, that put about a million dollars worth of maintenance into this building,” Nyen said. “So it was a clear message to us that our local community supports Burt Township School District, and I think the difficulty that we have as community members is it seems that our politicians in Lansing are not supporting our school district. And that’s a tough message.”

While the school districts that will be impacted by this veto may be small and located in remote areas, they do serve a vital role in our societies by teaching our students, and that should not be overlooked.

ABC10 will continue to follow this story and all developments on the budget as more information becomes available.