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Gov. Whitmer's office and Benton Harbor school board official say "lines of communication are open."

Benton Harbor Area Schools Central Adminstration building
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio

Update: July 9, 2019 6:45 p.m.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist met today with officials from the Benton Harbor school board. The governor's Press Secretary, Tiffany Brown, and BHAS Board President Steve Mitchell issued the following joint statement after the meeting:

“Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Benton Harbor Area School Board leadership met to discuss next steps regarding the district. The lines of communication are open among all parties and we look forward to future discussions to identify a solution that puts Benton Harbor students first.”

Brown declined to elaborate on the statement, and school board vice president Joseph Taylor declined to comment.

Original post: July 2, 2019:

The Benton Harbor school board voted no on Tuesday night on a resolution to "work cooperatively with state officials."  

The state proposed closing the Benton Harbor High School in late May. That’s because the district is $18.4 million in debt, and students are struggling academically.

The school board was expected to vote Tuesday evening on a tentative agreement state officials said they'd reached with the board.

In a surprise move, school board members said the board had never agreed to the state's tentative plan to keep the high school open.

Patricia Rush is the school board secretary. She said state officials lied.

“There was no agreement. We never agreed to anything,” Rush said.

The state posted highlights of the proposed agreement online; it says the district would need to meet a set of financial and academic goals within the next year in order to save the high school.

The catch: if the district fell short of the goals, the high school would close.

Rush said the board can’t trust the word of state officials, making an exception for Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.

“In my entire professional 40 year career, I have never been treated the way we have been treated, the whole board has been treated, by the representatives from the governor,” she said.

Rush and other board members said they will never vote for any plan from the state that includes the possibility of closing the high school.

Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, insisted that the tentative agreement was reached in a meeting on June 26.

“There was a tentative agreement reached during the meeting. The board did not, and still has time to, accept it officially,” Brown said in a text message.

Later on Tuesday evening, Brown sent the following statement by email:

“The Benton Harbor school board's action tonight to vote down the resolution to put students first is a setback for Benton Harbor students, parents, and the community. By voting not to accept this proposal – which was developed with direct input from BHAS board members and attorneys – board members are sending a troubling signal to parents that they are unwilling to negotiate in good faith to address the district’s academic and financial challenges.  The governor remains committed to finding a solution that puts Benton Harbor students first."

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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