State Proposes Closure Of Benton Harbor High School

The Michigan Department of Treasury has shed some light on what state officials are proposing be done with Benton Harbor Area Schools.

The department issued a press release Friday saying the state is proposing operations at Benton Harbor High School be suspended and opportunities be provided to the students to take classes at eight surrounding school districts.

The release says only 3% of Benton Harbor Area Schools third graders could read at grade level in 2018, and zero eleventh graders were deemed college-ready each of the last five years. It goes on to say “the State of Michigan and community partners have proposed a plan to expand opportunities for Benton Harbor students from kindergarten through eighth grade and suspend operations at the high school and alternative high school.”

The release then says  under “this plan, starting in the 2020-2021 school year, high school students would be able to attend one of eight local high schools in their area or get a CTE focused education and earn college credits in partnership with Lake Michigan College.” Michigan Treasurer Rachael Eubanks says there’s “no question that this will be an adjustment for Benton Harbor families, but this is the best solution to serve students and get the district on track to resolving their debt.”

The other school districts which are said to be options for Benton Harbor High School students are Berrien Springs Public Schools, Bridgman Public Schools, Coloma Community Schools, Eau Claire Public Schools, Lakeshore Public Schools, Niles Community Schools, St. Joseph Public Schools, and Watervliet Community Schools. The state says transportation for students who attend those districts out of Benton Harbor will be free. Two additional options would be Lake Michigan College and the Bridge Academy.

The press release ends by saying the state requires approval from and partnership with the school board. The local board will have to make a decision within two weeks. Otherwise, the solution would be up to the Michigan Legislature.

Below is the full Treasury press release:

State of Michigan Proposes Bold Solution for Benton Harbor Schools

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Today state of Michigan officials met with Benton Harbor education leaders to discuss a bold proposal to get Benton Harbor students on a path to success and help the district take steps toward resolving their debt.

In 2018, only 3 percent of Benton Harbor Area Schools third graders could read at grade level, and zero eleventh graders were deemed college-ready each of the last five years. The district is more than $16 million in debt, with $700 per student being spent to pay back debt every year.

To help Benton Harbor students get on a path to postsecondary education, the State of Michigan and community partners have proposed a plan to expand opportunities for Benton Harbor students from Kindergarten through Eighth grade and suspend operations at the high school and alternative high school. Under this plan, starting in the 2020-2021 school year, high school students would be able to attend one of eight local high schools in their area or get a CTE focused education and earn college credits in partnership with Lake Michigan College.

“There’s no question that this will be an adjustment for Benton Harbor families, but this is the best solution to serve students and get the district on track to resolving their debt,” said Treasurer Rachael Eubanks. “Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option. We’re proud of the solution we’ve put on the table and believe it’s a much better option than what has happened in the past, where districts have been completely dissolved or converted to a charter system. This way, we can ensure K-8 students can get the skills they need and area high schoolers can get on a path to post-secondary success. The governor is ready to work with the Departments of Treasury and Education as well as the local school board to work on this solution and put our students first.”

 “Our primary concern is for the children of Benton Harbor,” said Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles. “This proposed plan helps focus everyone’s efforts on improving academic outcomes and providing brighter futures for Benton Harbor kids. This is a critical time, and the students need the opportunity to move forward.”

“As educators, we all share a responsibility to ensure every student can get a quality public education. We stand by ready to serve the Benton Harbor community and help every student thrive and build a future for themselves here in Michigan. We’re ready to work with everyone who wants to help,” said a group of 10 superintendents and educators from the Benton Harbor area, including: Berrien Springs Public Schools, Bridge Academy, powered by Kinexus Group, Bridgman Public Schools, Coloma Community Schools, Eau Claire Public Schools, Lake Michigan College, Lakeshore Public Schools, Niles Community Schools, St. Joseph Public Schools, and Watervliet Community Schools. 

The State of Michigan plan requires approval from and partnership with the school board. The plan will include transportation for high school students at no cost to families.