Benton Harbor school board OKs panel to help get district back on track

Benton Harbor School Board meeting, Sept. 10, 2019 | Allison Donahue

Benton Harbor school board members unanimously approved a resolution to form a new Community Engagement and Advisory Committee at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Benton Harbor High School | Allison Donahue

The goal of the committee is to improve academic performance and close the district’s $18.3 million debt. This comes after months of negotiating with the state of Michigan, which initially proposed closing the high school, sparking outrage from many leaders and community members.

School board Vice President Joseph Taylor says the board is approving the concept of the committee, but have not come to a consensus on the details.

“In two weeks, we will come right back out in probably a special meeting and will have a list, it might not have names on it, but it will be a list of positions for the advisory board,” Taylor said. 

Benton Harbor School Board Vice President Joseph Taylor | Allison Donahue

He said the board has been working with the state about what the composition of the new committee will be. This was a point of contention at the last board meeting, as members voiced concern about the lack of community and school involvement proposed by the state.

In August, the school board met with the Michigan Department of Treasury to discuss options for the advisory committee. The state proposed it should be made up of community members and state officials.

At the Sept. 3 meeting, Taylor announced he believes the advisory board should be comprised of a teacher, a student, two district trustees and the district’s chief financial officer.

In June, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met with community members in the Southwest Michigan city where she discussed shutting down the high school. Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad led a protest in Lansing afterward. 

Benton Harbor residents vent to Whitmer about high school closure

The district has been working with the state for months to find another alternative to address the district’s academic and financial standing.  

Taylor told The Advance that the relationship between the state and district is in a good place and believes that together, they will create a six-month plan for the new committee.

Allison Donahue
Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues, LGBTQ issues and immigration. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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