HP-style slowdown in Motown ties up rush-hour Woodward
By T. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
HIGHLAND PARK — Parents, citizens and residents, angry over the emergency manager’s destruction of thousands of books dumped from the Highland Park Senior High School Library and upset that the district deficit has doubled in two years and that another 12 percent of students have fallen into the failing category, took to the streets July 8.
Eight cars lined from curb to curb across Woodward Avenue approached slowly and stopped in front of the high school. Rush-hour traffic came to a complete halt for 10 minutes. Demonstrators on the sidewalks chanted slogans, passed out informational fliers to drivers and carried signs demanding the ouster of EM Donald Weatherspoon, the end to the emergency manager law and restoration of the school’s library.
“They’ve tossed our heritage,” said resident Delores Graham, talking about the city’s loss of the valuable African American History collection included in the books destroyed by Weatherspoon.
“The collection rivaled what some colleges have,” said Linda Wheeler, chair of the Citizens for Highland Park Public Schools (CHPPS), the group organizing the protest. “Donald Weatherspoon dumped over 10,000 books. It’s malicious destruction.”
Wheeler is a special education teacher in Highland Park. Like all teachers in the district, she was pink-slipped in the spring.
“(Gov. Rick) Snyder is the new Hitler,” “Save our Children,” “Dump the EM, not the books,” “Slowdown in Motown, HP style” were some of the messages on protest signs carried by the 60 persons supporting the slowdown and calling for the removal of the emergency manager.
In February 2012, Snyder appointed Jack Martin, the first EM for Highland Park Schools, then two months later in May 2012, he named Joyce Parker EM, and five months after that in October, Weatherspoon.
Weatherspoon is also emergency manager of Muskegon Heights schools. The deficit-ridden districts pay all his travel and housing expenses.
In both cities, Weatherspoon has hired for-profit charter companies and has converted both districts to charter districts. The failing Leona Group, L.L.C. runs the renamed Highland Park Renaissance district. For-profit Mosaica Education, Inc. runs Muskegon Heights district. The Heights district has seen rapid teacher turnover this year, according to Michigan Public Radio, and has been fined by the State Department of Education for hiring non-certified teachers.
Weatherspoon’s management problems extend to both districts.
In a civil rights trial that begins July 22 before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Marvin R. Stempien, the ACLU cited the growing number of failing students under emergency management. Weatherspoon, in a mandated public meeting June 24 reported to the taxpayers that the district deficit is now $19 million, double what it was when the state took over.
Parents expressed anger over the disposal of district equipment as well as the books. Buses, driver training cars, fork lift trucks, kitchen and maintenance equipment were listed on eBay with bids starting at one dollar, according to elected board member Soyini Williams. File cabinets, bookcases, media carts and other items were simply dumped with the books.
According to Wheeler, CHPPS plans to continue disruption and protests until the library is restored and the emergency manager is gone.
“We’re not finished,” she said. “We’re going to do what we have to, to get it back.”