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Wayne-Westland Schools superintendent placed on leave amid multi-million dollar budget gap

Wayne-Westland Schools superintendent placed on leave amid multi-million dollar budget gap
Wayne-Westland Schools superintendent placed on leave amid multi-million dollar budget gap 02:23

WESTLAND, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - The Wayne-Westland Community Schools Board of Education is holding a special meeting Monday evening after putting their superintendent, John Dignan, on administrative leave.

The district is grappling with a budget deficit of almost $30 million.

The district didn't make the acting superintendent, Jennifer Curry, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, available to comment on how they plan to navigate the multi-million dollar shortfall. However, a spokesperson noted it would be the key topic at Monday's meeting.

"If we don't have responsible leaders in place, then we will continue to see a downward trajectory of everything, and that's what we're seeing," said Edward Pruett III, a community advocate. 

Andres Gutierrez/CBS Detroit

Pruett is among those who favor the decision to place Dignan on paid leave and believes the move marks a significant step toward addressing the district's financial challenges.

"It went from $4 million to $8 million to $17 million, and we're like, 'What is going on? Who has made the mistake?'" Pruett said. 

An audit this past fall revealed that the district was facing a nearly $30 million budget shortfall due to staff raises and a clerical error.

"When the budget discrepancy was identified, the district responded immediately and worked with our new financial team to understand what had occurred," Dignan told parents in a video message back in December. 

In March, the district's head of finance warned they're barreling toward a financial crisis. 

"It's crucial to understand that if we don't make significant changes by July 1, next year will be devastating," Julie Campbell, assistant superintendent of business and finance at Wayne-Westland Community Schools, told board members. 

"The clerical error that they've chalked it up to, I believe, does have some merit. Do I believe that there are some backhanded situations possibly going on to cover up some things? Absolutely," said Jennifer Owens, a parent.

Owens started a petition requesting an official investigation into Dignan, and she also accused him of fostering a culture of fear.

"Even at tonight's board meeting, I have been asked by anonymous teachers to please stand up and say this on behalf of this department, and so on. They're afraid to have their faces seen that their names known, and speak up for their own students," Owens said.

She's cautious about what the district has to say about the budget tonight and isn't alone. 

"I don't believe there's going to be full transparency on what's going on with the budget. I don't believe there's going to be accurate information to provide a solution for forward movement," Pruett said.

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