Community rallies in attempt to save Pontiac High School from closing

School battling to improve financial situation, academic performance

PONTIAC, Mich. - A group of school employees, parents and community members rallied Wednesday in front of Pontiac High School in an attempt to show support for keeping the school open.

Residents gathered at 3 p.m. to show they want to continue making progress toward making the school district viable.

"Through substantial sacrifices made by teachers and support staff, the Pontiac School District has made tremendous gains in the last few years," Aimee McKeever, president of the Pontiac Education Association, said. "Over half of the $54 million debt has been erased and the district continues to make significant progress closing the debt."

Three years ago, the school district entered into a consent agreement with the state to improve both its financial situation and academic performance.

To address the financial crisis, school employees agreed to significant pay cuts and now pay 50 percent of their health insurance premiums.

The concessions helped the financial bottom line but made it more difficult to achieve the academic improvement required by the consent agreement, which has caused the State School Reform Office to target Pontiac High School for potential closure.

"The cuts to wages and benefits have led to significant turnover in teaching staff. In turn, that makes academic improvements, specifically scores on standardized tests, much more difficult to achieve," McKeever said. "However, we are seeing gains in student achievement that are not always measurable on standardized tests."

Another factor officials said is hurting Pontiac schools is "the substantial proliferation of charter schools in and around Pontiac."

"Those charters continue to drain resources from our traditional neighborhood schools, leaving us without the necessary resources to educate our students," McKeever said. "For those who advocate choice, like Betsy DeVos, who claim public schools like Pontiac are failing, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when you take away huge chunks of funding from our students."

Residents worry that the closure of Pontiac High School would not only be a crippling blow to students, parents and school employees but that it would damage the city's economic recovery.

Pontiac was recently released from state control through an emergency manager, and businesses are beginning to come back to the city, improving economic and employment conditions. Residents worry that the loss of Pontiac High School would serve a significant blow to the city's economic resurgence.

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