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Financial report card: Benton Harbor Area Schools

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- At a school board meeting last week, the new finance director for Benton Harbor Area Schools revealed the district has mistakenly put itself into more debt. We spent the day breaking down the numbers.

Carolyn Gibbs mapped it all out at last Tuesday’s board meeting.

The figure to pay the most attention to is a $2 million safety and gang prevention grant the district was awarded last spring.

“What we don’t have are the structures and those tools that allow us to help properly engage our children all the time or move them from place to place all the time,” now-suspended superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker said in an interview in October 2016 – when applying for the grant.

The district got it. And back in September 2017, we took a look at what the money was going toward – building upgrades for safety; programming; and new hires like counselors.

But at last Tuesday’s meeting, Gibbs explained how the budgeting of the grant money became disorganized – one of the factors in the school board voting to place Walker on paid leave two weeks ago.

“The $2 million safety grant – and I’m going to use round numbers – so $100,000 of it was spent in last year’s fiscal year,” she said. “And then originally, $1.9 million – if you go back to the original budget for ’17-18 – was forecasted to be spent this year. So what you would’ve expected, because we had the cash here from the state, you’d have the expenses. When we moved the half a million – because some of the Riverwood’s money is going to go into ’18-19 – on the cash flow, instead of it showing [$1.4 million], which is what we intend to spend this year, it only showed [$900,000]. So the [$500,000] accidentally got taken out twice.”

Riverwood is a counseling service the district uses.

The original plan was to spend the remaining $1.9 million in grant money this school year on Riverwood and other programs and services.

But then the district decided to put $500,000 of that money into next year’s budget for more counseling.

The issue? The revised budget took twice that amount out.

So when Gibbs reviewed everything, she found human error put the district $500,000 in debt from the safety grant and another $100,000 in debt from other mistakes.

In all, it means the Benton Harbor Area Schools District is currently $600,000 in debt.

ABC57’s Taurean Small is covering a school board meeting taking place tonight [Monday, February 19]. He’ll have a full report at 10 and 11 p.m.

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