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Benton Harbor school board to vote Tuesday on agreement to keep high school open

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Benton Harbor High School is one of nearly 100 schools on the list of the Michigan's "lowest achieveing schools" for 2011.

Benton Harbor High School could stay open for the next year, if the school board votes on Tuesday night to approve an agreement with the state.

State officials had proposed closing the high school because the district is more than $18 million in debt and students are struggling academically. That created a community outcry to keep the school open.

Last week, the school board reached a tentative agreement with the state. State officials say that as of July 1, the Benton Harbor school board has regained "the full authority of a traditional school board." Officials say the district is required to develop an "Enhanced Deficit Elimination Plan" and do monthly financial reporting. As part of that plan, the state treasurer will enter into a financial recovery agreement with Benton Harbor Area Schools.

The tentative agreement says, "the final version of the financial recovery agreement, including specific quantitative benchmarks, is under review by the local board." Below are some examples of benchmarks the district will be held accountable for under the tentative plan:

  • Hire a highly qualified superintendent and CFO and retain them for the entire school year
  • Increase the number of certified teachers hired by BHAS and decrease the use of long-term substitutes
  • Increase teacher compensation
  • Make attainable increases in student growth and proficiency, as measured by assessments like M-STEP and SAT
  • Significantly decrease the percentage of students that are chronically absent
  • Ensure that members of the local board participate in leadership training sessions
  • Adopt a balanced budget
  • Reduce the percentage of the budget used for non-instructional purposes

The tentative agreement states that if BHAS does not meet the year one benchmarks, "the Board agrees to suspend operations of the high school. The district would partner with surrounding districts to serve students in grades 9-12. The Board would revise its strategic plan to solely focus on improving outcomes for students in K-8 and stabilize the finances of the district." 
The state expects the agreement to be signed by the end of July.


Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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