State budget cuts could mean the end for Burt Township Schools

 Burt Township Schools in Grand Marais, Mich.
Burt Township Schools in Grand Marais, Mich. (WLUC)
Published: Oct. 3, 2019 at 5:55 PM EDT
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The future of Burt Township Schools remains unsure after Governor Gretchen Whitmer decided on Monday to cut funding for the “Saving Paradise Fund.” This fund, which helps small, isolated school districts in Northern Michigan, is just one of Whitmer’s vetoes involving educational funding.

"It’s not fair to the people that are being impacted because you have people that are concerned about their livelihood,” said Burt Township Schools Superintendent, Gregory Nyen.

The Saving Paradise Fund, which totals about $7 million, is where Burt Township Schools gets a lot of its funding.

Without the fund, the district will be losing more than $221,000.

"When you take that revenue from an annual budget of just under $960,000 that equates to a loss of 23 percent of our revenue,” Nyen said.

The district has enough money to stay open for the rest of the year, but after that Nyen said the school might have to be reduced to kindergarten through sixth grade only. That means seventh through twelfth grade students would have to be on a bus for about four hours per day, as they would have to travel to either Munising or Newberry for school.

"During the winter we all know that the weather close to Lake Superior can be quite surly, and that’s going to further complicate their commute home and may very well put our students in harm’s way,” Nyen said.

The other option is closing the school completely.

Dixie McCormick, who has been teaching at the school for 14 years, said Whitmer’s decision not only brings concerns over job security, but for the district's students, too.

"It's really frightening in a lot of ways not only for me, but for the community and the children as a whole. This is what they know, this is where they've been,” McCormick said.

Last year, the Grand Marais community voted in favor of a millage that brought approximately $1 million in repairs to the Burt Township Schools. Nyen said that if the school district has to close, all of the taxpayer dollars will essentially go to waste.

Nyen added that he has been in contact with various state legislators and he has also reached out to Whitmer in hopes to reverse her decision.

"I suppose it's a futile wish, but it would be nice if our legislators could model some of the behavior here that we expect from our students, and figure this out collaboratively,” he said.

Other districts impacted by the cut to the Saving Paradise Fund include: Whitefish Township, Beaver Island, Mackinac Island, and DeTour Village.