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Benton Harbor school district enters amended consent agreement with state

The Board of Education at Benton Harbor area schools just signed a major agreement with the Michigan Department of Education that they say will get them on a better track for improved academic achievement and financial stability in the district.

After years of struggle and several different district leaders, Dr. Robert Herrera has signed on as CEO/superintendent, but some members of the board felt like it was more of an ultimatum given by the state.

Since May of 2017, Benton Harbor schools have been under a partnership agreement to help resurrect three of the district’s six schools that were at risk of being closed. Thursday, a motion to terminate that agreement on July 17th and adopt an amended consent agreement was approved. This means the CEO, Dr. Herrera, will report to the state’s school reform officer about the changes needed there. The school board will still oversee borrowing and taxation responsibilities but will be regularly updated by the CEO. Both motions were approved, but while most celebrated the step forward, others felt like the move wasn’t handled correctly.

“State came to us and told us that we didn’t meet our testing goals and it was a ‘do or die’ situation. Either we bring in the CEO that they wanted us to have, or they dissolve our district in November if we stay under the consent agreement,” said Benton Harbor Area Schools Board Member Lisa Gulley in voicing her concerns during that meetings. Gulley says despite her opposition, she still supports her fellow board members in their decision-making.

Dr. Herrera was present at Thursday night’s meeting where he publicly expressed his commitment to the school district and says he made the decision based on his conversations with the board, also referencing statements online about his new role in the district.

“Serving the Benton Harbor Area Schools will be professionally and personally one of the greatest opportunities in my education career. With the help of district parents, teachers and community partners, we will create a shared vision for what the environment in Benton Harbor Area Schools will look like and what the learning experiences for our children will be,” said Dr. Herrera. “You have my commitment as Superintendent and CEO, that together we will make holistic improvements over the next four years that will benefit all of our students as well as reach the academic outcomes and financial stability we are expected by the State to achieve.”

Budget updates were another part of the meeting. Back in April, ABC 57 news told you some staff roles were being switched up because of needed budget deductions. This time around, officials discussed how the budget would show a decrease in their deficit for various reasons. One area the board is interested in looking at, that could save them money, is a change in bus transportation routes, since they currently pay per route. Despite the teacher shortage, substitutes have been costing the district less money as well, however they are focusing on filling the open positions as soon as possible.

Under the new agreement, school board members says they will take the role as advisors to the CEO when it comes to both academics and the financial stability of the district. School Board President Marletta Seats says Dr. Herrera is responsible for setting goals and developing and implementing plans that will bring about necessary improvements.

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