Suit targets use of $400K to raze Highland Park high school
Highland Park — A former Highland Park school board member is suing the district’s emergency manager and another state official for transferring $400,000 out of a sinking fund to help pay for the demolition of the former Highland Park Community High School.
Robert Davis, who served 10 months in prison for stealing $200,000 from the district, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court.
The lawsuit alleges Emergency Manager Steven Schiller and Steve Arwood, director of the Department of Talent Economic Development, unlawfully used sinking fund money for the demolition project without the consent of voters.
Davis, identified as a pro se plaintiff, also accuses Schiller of violating due process by not having the district’s sinking fund audited in the 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15 fiscal years.
A sinking fund is a limited property tax used to pay for major repairs, construction and renovations of school buildings.
“That money should have been used over the last few years that an emergency manager has been in place to repair the existing school buildings,” Davis said. “And it wasn’t done.”
Arwood declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on potential litigation,” said Dave Murray, a spokesman for the Michigan Talent and Economic Development Department.
Murray said the department runs the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, which often works with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority on grant projects that remove blighted buildings from neighborhoods.
The Highland Park School District contacted the land bank for help with the demolition project, Murray said.
Schiller was unable to be reached for comment.
Highland Park closed its high school in 2015 because of low enrollment.
The district has been faced with a host of financial hardships as well as a state takeover in the past decade.
Schiller, Highland Park’s fifth emergency manager since 2012, has said the district will cut its ties with George Washington Carver Academy this year, leaving just one school in the district — Highland Park Renaissance Academy, which is operated by the Leona Group.
Davis’ lawsuit states that Schiller authorized the use of the sinking fund for demolition of the high school.
It also says Arwood submitted an application to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority seeking a $2 million grant to raze Highland Park Community High School. The grant application indicates that a $400,000 contribution from the district’s sinking fund would be required, according to the office.
The lawsuit alleges that the demolition is unlawful because the building will not be replaced with a school-related structure.
Davis accused the city of planning to develop the land for commercial use.
“It is evident that the demolition of the Highland Park Community High School does not fall within the listed purposes for which funds from a sinking fund can be used for,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks to require the school district to conduct an audit of the sinking fund and allow voters to decide whether the fund can be used to demolish the high school.
“That money should be sent right back to the bank until the citizens weigh in on the use of the funds,” Davis said.