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Flint school superintendent put on leave amid investigation

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The superintendent of Flint Community School was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, school board president Casey Lester said in a statement on Wednesday.

It was not clear why Derrick Lopez, hired by Flint public schools in 2018, was under investigation. Lester declined to comment further, through a spokesperson, and Lopez was not immediately available for comment.

Officials at the Michigan Department of Education said they did not know why Lopez was under investigation.

Derrick Lopez

"We’ve received nothing from the school district regarding this, and not sure we will as this is a local issue," MDE spokesman Martin Ackley said.

Lester said assistant superintendent Anita Steward was appointed interim superintendent and will leads the district's efforts to implement its distance learning plan.

"Anita Steward is a dedicated, long-time leader in the district and will continue to guide student learning and engagement through the remainder of the year," Lester said in the statement. "Pursuant with Board of Education policy, we are not able to provide additional details regarding personnel matters."

Flint schools are in a financial crisis, with a looming budget deficit and increasing special education costs.

The district has a larger-than-average special education population — 26% — a number that's nearly twice the statewide average of 13.2%. Flint's special education population also has grown every school year since the city's 2014 water crisis.

At the same time, the district has experienced a decline in its general education, or non-special education, population. It has decreased from 85% in the 2014-15 school year to 73% this year.

The district is projected to end the school year with a $12.7 million deficit, which will grow to $25.9 million by the 2026-27 school year, according to a deficit elimination plan filed with the Michigan Department of Treasury.

Part of the district's deficit stems from $3.6 million in special education costs not covered by the state, Lopez told The News in February.

Every year, the district must dip into its general fund to cover between $3 million and $4 million in uncovered special education costs, Flint school officials said, driving up their deficit annually. Because special education services are required by law, each district must pay for them through general funds.

Last August, Lopez implemented a balanced calendar in the district that had classes start earlier in the summer, end later in the spring and include six multi-day breaks as part of a new effort to keep children academically engaged and let teachers recharge.