Benton Harbor Schools ‘urgently requesting’ that Gov. Whitmer reconsider plan

BENTON HARBOR, Mich.—Benton Harbor Area Schools officials have written an open letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer “urgently requesting” that she appear in person at the June 4 public meeting regarding the proposed plan to close Benton Harbor's high schools.

The state met with officials from Benton Harbor on Friday to discuss the plan that recommends the closing of Benton Harbor High School and the alternative high school so that the district can focus on students in K-8th grade.

In the proposed plan, Benton Harbor High School and the alternative high school would close as of the 2020-2021 school year.

The school board issued the following open letter to Governor Whitmer, with an urgent request for her to attend the June 4 meeting in person, which is open to the public and will be held at 6 p.m. in the Benton Harbor High School Student Commons.

Letter to Governor Whitmer written by the Benton Harbor Area Schools Board (BHAS):

Dear Governor Whitmer –

We respectfully and urgently request that you visit Benton Harbor in person to meet in an Open
Public Meeting with the community and the elected School Board trustees regarding the future of
Benton Harbor High School and the K-12 District as a whole.

The School Board is hosting an Open Public Meeting at the Benton Harbor High School Student
Commons on Tuesday June 4 at 6pm. We would love to host you and let you hear the full story.

Hopefully you are aware that representatives from your office, Treasury and the Department of
Education are claiming that, on your behalf, a unilateral decision has been made to close Benton
Harbor High School in 2020. The Board was told by your representatives that a decision was made
by your office to intentionally exclude the elected School Board trustees and exclude open
community input from the decision-making process. Honestly, we are completely shocked and
dismayed by this action. Our Board has been working in good faith with both Treasury and
Education to address issues at BHAS including an outline for a new Strategic Plan, submitted to
Treasury, but upon which your departments have taken no action.

We also want to openly confront the many “elephants in the room” that neither your staff nor the
news media have addressed:

• The land upon which the Benton Harbor High School sits with its athletic fields and adjacent
Berrien County, Michigan. Is this just a coincidence, given that your office just told our
Board representatives on 5/24/19 that your plan to close Benton Harbor High School has
major (but unnamed) supporters in the nearby business community?

• The Draft Plan from your office is explicitly a transfer of wealth from an overwhelmingly poor
and black community (Benton Harbor) to nearby white, more affluent communities. Under
your Plan, that transfer of wealth will occur through the loss by Benton Harbor of its school
facilities and use of school land, transfer of state funding from Benton Harbor to the
adjacent nine school districts where you plan Benton Harbor students to be redistributed,
and loss of jobs for local teachers and staff of all levels.

• The contention by representatives of your office that hiring a single staff person to act as a
“Cultural Dean” to smooth over “discomfort” that the displaced 700 black students might
feel when transported out of their community to predominantly white schools is an
appalling insult to our youth and the community. Such insensitivity to the painful history of
racial segregation, unsuccessful past desegregation efforts, and continued State-sponsored
dis-investment in Benton Harbor calls for a swift and strong response.

We call upon you to meet with us – to hear the students voices and the expertise of our teachers.
We call upon you to fulfill your 2018 campaign promises to support public schools, especially in
high-poverty communities, to fight urban poverty, and to hold government accountable.

BHAS needs balanced, constructive leadership from you, your office and all State agencies.
We need complete transparency. We need State and local leaders to stop sensationalizing limited
facts about Benton Harbor in the media and on the website created by your office to
promote your Plan to close Benton Harbor High School. Our community needs to feel that our
youth are respected, valued and worth meaningful investment so that they may achieve their
tremendous potential. The students, their families, our teachers, and our community deserve that.

Sincerely, Steve Mitchell, Trustee and Board President
Joseph Taylor, Trustee and Board Vice-President
Patricia Rush, Trustee and Board Secretary
Denise Whatley-Seats, Trustee and Board Treasurer
Matthew Bradley, Trustee
Lue Buchana, Trustee
Michelle Crowder, Trustee

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