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Tensions high at monthly BHAS advisory meeting

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- A new chain of command is allegedly causing communication issues.

Wednesday morning the Benton Harbor Area Schools Advisory Board held a monthly meeting to gather advice for the district, and tensions were high.

The meeting follows a BHAS Superintendent meeting held the previous night. The board says that they did not attend because they received an invitation at late notice.

Wednesday’s monthly meeting provided a chance for the board to interact with state officials the board is working with through their cooperative agreement. All with one goal: fix the district’s finances and academics.

“I’d like to have approval of the agenda. Uh, we can’t-- Just is there a consensus to approve the agenda?” The first comment made at the meeting, setting a tone for the morning.

The cooperative agreement that switched power from the school board to Superintendent Robert Herrera is the first of its kind, and it’s experiencing growing pains.

“I don’t believe we’re on the same page,” Board President Marletta Seats said at the meeting while discussing the intentions of cooperative agreement.

Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Kyle Guerrant said that the command model is something brand new, and it has items to work out. “I think there are just a lot of questions on who’s playing what role and how does that look on a day to day basis versus on paper,” he said.

“Any comments? We are allowed to comment, without just suggesting right?” a remark that could be heard in the meeting room.

Wednesday morning, the board framed suggestions to a number of different items like transportation concerns, technology use, and the root cause of behavior problems.

“Instead of saying this looks like it’s the students fault we gotta control them, maybe there’s some adult behavior and school behaviors that those of us are in charge of the district need to look at also,” Secretary Martha Momany mentioned at the table in regards to violence at the high school. 

Seats mentioned the need for training when it comes to student – officer interaction, especially with IEP students. “Having officers there, is that all the pieces? We did not see the students having the opportunity to learn how to deal with police.”

One item on the agenda, a discussion of the intent of the cooperative agreement, as the parameters are allegedly causing communication issues.

“I’d like to see some common ground, or I’m wondering uh what does this piece paper really worth?” Seats said at the table as she held up a copy of the agreement.

Even though the board does not serve as a typical board, the Michigan Department of Education says it’s important that the board has a voice.

“They have knowledge and experience and expertise in the district,” Guerrant said.

“It’s time to quit playing games. It’s time for all of us to play together in the sandbox, because if we keep throwing sand at each other, the sandbox is going to be empty. And for me, that sandbox is a metaphor for Benton Harbor Area Schools.”

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