The new school year at Benton Harbor Area Schools started this week, and the fate of Benton Harbor High School is still unclear.
The school board decided to push back the vote to form a Community Engagement and Advisory Committee at Tuesday night’s work session.
The district met with the Michigan Department of Treasury in August to discuss the committee, which would be made up of community members and state officials. The goal of the committee is to improve the district’s financial standing and academic performance.
But now, some board members have expressed concern that the proposed committee does not include enough involvement of the district or the Michigan Department of Education.
School board Vice President Joseph Taylor said the advisory board should be comprised of a teacher, a student, two district trustees and the district’s chief financial officer, a position that is currently vacant.
“They are giving suggestions,” Taylor said. “But it almost seems like they don’t take any suggestions from us.”
Taylor questioned the involvement of the leadership of the new committee.
“Why is Treasury leading the advisory team?” he asked. “Why is [state Superintendent Michael] Rice not in charge?”
The Advance previously reported, Rice said he is optimistic that implementing an advisory committee will help get the district back to good financial and academic standing.
In June, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed to shut down the high school and held a town hall meeting in Benton Harbor at the Brotherhood of All Nations Church. Many community members and local stakeholders were upset with the proposal, hoping to keep the district intact.
“I don’t want to dissolve the district of Benton Harbor. I want to make sure we’re successful and it takes tough decisions on a number of fronts. But at the end of every day, I’m going to do what I think is in the best interest of the kids in the state,” Whitmer said at the town hall.
School board Secretary Patricia Rush said on Tuesday that she’s concerned that the current plan doesn’t give another protection to the school.
“There is no definite protection that the state won’t come back and close [the high school] later,” she said.
At the meeting, leaders also discussed a plan to restore the district’s budget and get out of an $18.3 million debt by 2026.
“When you look at our budget today, we need to make sure we stick to it so we can stick to that 2026 time frame,” Taylor said.
Both the seven-year plan to relieve the district’s debt and a decision to move forward with an advisory board are expected to be voted on at the Sept. 10 school board meeting.