As interim superintendent takes over, BHAS focuses on special education

NOW: As interim superintendent takes over, BHAS focuses on special education

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The hot topic at Tuesday night’s Benton Harbor Area Schools Board meeting was not Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker resigning last week, but how the district is working to fix its struggling special education program.

After it was revealed the district has not been complying with state guidelines for special education, several members of the public voiced concerns about it at Tuesday’s meeting.

Pamela Harper, who oversees the program, explained what steps the district is taking to right the ship.

But she also mapped out some of the difficulties her staff faces – including the fact that one-third of special education teachers in Benton Harbor are substitute teachers; and there is currently no formal system within the district to help identify students who should be evaluated.

“Last year, student study teams did not exist,” Harper said. “I rely on parents because I don’t have overall general [education] information on who is having a problem, what the academic concerns are. I have to rely on the building administration and various teachers.”

Lou Ann Vidmar, who is the union representative for Benton Harbor teachers and paraprofessionals, expressed concern over how the district is managing its partnership agreement with the state.

“We have staff that have committed their lives to these kids,” Vidmar said. “Their livelihoods are based on this community and this school. So they’re working in fear because they don’t know what’s going to happen in the future for them.”

She spoke to the board Tuesday night saying the community needs to come together to help the district.

Vidmar said she’s afraid the next set of goals needing to be met by November for the partnership agreement will not be met, which could result in a state takeover or the district closing.

Board trustees also received an update Tuesday on the district’s finances from its new chief financial officer.

And Patricia Robinson spoke for the first time since taking over as interim superintendent.

“It is an honor,” Robinson said. “And I will move forward with the goals of the district and of the board, as we support and collaborate together to help out students here, so thank you.”

Robinson took over as interim superintendent effective Tuesday, which means Walker’s tenure with Benton Harbor Area Schools is officially over after 26 months.

One thing that was not discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the status of the investigations into Walker and the handling of the $2 million safety and gang prevention grant the district got last year.

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