State, Benton Harbor reach tentative deal to keep high school open

    Benton Harbor High School
    Benton Harbor High School | Nick Manes

    A spokesperson for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer confirmed Wednesday that her office has come to a tentative agreement with Benton Harbor officials that will keep the city’s lone public high school open.

    Details of the plan were not made available, as it still has to be formally approved by Benton Harbor’s school board, but Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad told the Detroit News based a conversation with the governor’s office that it features “a one-year agreement, and there will be resources allocated and restructuring of the debt.”

    “Some would say you can live to fight another day,” Muhammad told the News. “However, we hope the fight to shut down is over and the fight to improve begins.”

    Benton Harbor officials tear into Whitmer in fight to save high school

    State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), a schools advocate and former public educator herself, praised the tentative deal in a statement.

    “I am glad to see the governor has listened to the concerns of the Benton Harbor community,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “The educational crisis in Benton Harbor illustrates a broader problem faced by school districts across our state after years of chronic underfunding and state control. … I’m grateful for the recognition by all involved parties that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.”

    The move comes after a public outcry over Benton Harbor High School’s planned closure due to years of financial insolvency. 

    Earlier in June, Whitmer attended a heated town hall in Benton Harbor where residents vented their frustration with the closure, and the next week Muhammad spoke in protest outside Whitmer’s official office in Lansing.

    Benton Harbor residents vent to Whitmer about high school closure

    Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said Wednesday that the state “has identified national experts who have experience turning around school districts that are struggling and we would like to engage in a day of learning alongside the board and community partners.”

    The compromise was hailed by state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac).

    “School districts like Benton Harbor now face the consequences of years of chronic underfunding and interventions that eroded or replaced local control — and problems that took years to develop will require long-term, thoughtful and complex solutions,” she said. 

    Carter said the proposal is only “a small step” in the process. 

    “Whatever solution is reached will have an impact not only on Benton Harbor but on similar communities throughout the state, which is why it’s important everyone’s voice be heard and all options considered. I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to assist in this process going forward.”

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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