Future of Benton Harbor Area Schools discussed amid financial crisis
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Michigan State officials, Benton Harbor Area Schools leaders and the community discussed solutions to the district’s financial problems on Thursday evening.
“I’m here much more than I am home, I come here tonight to speak because what is happening at my school and I teach here at the High School is unacceptable,” one Benton Harbor High School teacher said.
The meeting focused on ways to get the struggling district out of an $18 million dollar hole.
Benton Harbor has roughly 1,950 students in the school district, a number that has been falling for years.
Enrollment was a big focus of Thursday’s meeting because funding for the district is partially tied to enrollment, property taxes, and the ability to borrow based on the district’s enrollment numbers.
Officials discussed ways to help the school district correct the financial shortfall which included forming Charter Schools, contracting neighboring school districts to operate the schools, or dissolving the district, which all received resistance from the community.
Michigan’s Office of School Review & Fiscal Responsibility Director Shelbi Frayer says the school district needs to make the tough decisions soon.
“I think people hear $18 million dollars and they think that that’s the real problem and yes that’s a problem but their ability to borrow cash is the real story and that’s something that Benton Harbor is gonna have to get a handle on,” Frayer said.
Benton Harbor Area Schools CEO and Superintendent Dr. Robert Herrera said all of the options are on the table and a decision will be made on the course of action to tackle the academic and financial issues in the near future, but a lot of the districts money is tied up paying bills.
“We talk about individualized learning plans for students and opportunities and a higher quality teaching staff or being fully staffed with teachers all those things take money and that money is going to pay the deficit rather than going to those programs,” Dr. Herrera said.
Despite the numerous issues mentioned at Thursday’s meeting Benton Harbor High School former Principal Rodger Tripplett says after tonight’s meeting he is optimistic.
“Benton Harbor passion, we are tigers, tigers are predators we are never the prey five years from now we are going to be the district and the place to be,” Tripplett said.