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Benton Harbor school officials approve new four-year plan to send to Gov. Whitmer

NOW: Benton Harbor school officials approve new four-year plan to send to Gov. Whitmer

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BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A new four-year plan to keep Benton Harbor High School open was approved by school officials Tuesday. The new plan will be sent to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office this week for consideration.

The plan seeks to decrease suspension and expulsion rates while also increasing student academic performance over the course of four years. The district will also continue to work with the Michigan Department of Education through 2023 under the new plan with a cooperative agreement that the state will not be able to threaten another shutdown.

Interim Superintendent for Benton Harbor Area Schools Tricia Robinson said she hopes the plan approved Tuesday will allow the district to retain more certified teachers and keep Benton Harbor students in Benton Harbor.

“This is encouraging and also hopeful that we can move forward with this plan,” Robinson said.

Twelve month benchmark goals are outlined in the plan that will assess BHAS student’s academic performance. The Michigan Department of Education will also participate in regular check-ins and there will be accountability measures if the district fails to meet the benchmark standards.

“We developed the plan on a 12 month, 24 month, 36 month, 48 month benchmark goals. By the end of the four years we have a big jump of 60% of our students meeting their growth target rates.”

The four-year plan also tackles handling the district’s $18.4 million of debt by proposing a new bond based off of debt elimination.

“All of the money will go to eliminating our debt instead of us using our general funds to do that,” Robinson said. “It will cost a homeowner of $100,000 [property value] $100 a year which is a good investment in our district.”

Some residents in the audience Tuesday expressed concerns that the goals were too ambitious considering the district’s need for certified teachers in the classroom. One concerned parent asked the school board how they planned to ensure student success with substitute teachers present in many classrooms.

Robinson said the district has plans to address the need for more certified teachers over long-term substitutes in the classrooms including hosting job fairs.

 “The premise of this plan, the impetus is really going to be dependent on our ability to stabilize our district and that is going to be on the shoulders of us recruiting teachers and keeping the teachers that we do have.”

School officials expect the governor to have to questions about the plan but are hopeful the plan will be approved before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

A copy of the four-year plan presented at Tuesday’s special school board meeting was not yet available online at the time of publication.

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