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Benton Harbor unhappy with Whitmer plan to close high school

May 28, 2019

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A school board in southwestern Michigan is firing back at a plan to close a high school or face complete shutdown of the district , accusing state officials of wanting to take money out of Benton Harbor to benefit nearby white communities.

School trustees invited Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, to a public meeting on June 4 to hear what they call the “full story.” The Whitmer administration, citing the district’s poor finances and weak academic performance, said it wants the board to close the high school as part of a broader plan to improve local K-8 education.

“We can’t set our kids up for failure. It’s time to make a real, meaningful change that will get our students on a path to postsecondary success and economic opportunity,” the Treasury Department said Friday.

Hundreds of high school students would choose another school in the Berrien County area in fall 2020. The district could be dissolved or turned into a charter school system if the school board doesn’t approve.

In a letter dated Monday, the board said it had been working on a new strategy with the Michigan treasury and education departments but that no action was taken. The board also said there are “many elephants in the room” that haven’t been addressed by state officials.

The high school closure is “explicitly a transfer of wealth from an overwhelmingly poor and black community — Benton Harbor — to nearby white, more affluent communities,” the board said, referring to the per-student allowance from Lansing.

The board wondered whether developers were craving valuable school property near Lake Michigan.

“Our community needs to feel that our youth are respected, valued and worth meaningful investment so that they may achieve their tremendous potential,” the board said.

In response, state Treasurer Rachael Eubanks said closing the school is the best solution to getting the district on solid footing.

“The Benton Harbor school board will still have control of the school buildings and property while high school operations are suspended, and any future use will ultimately be a local decision,” she said in a written statement Tuesday.

The Herald-Palladium said many students and alumni are defending the high school on social media.

“Remove BHHS, you rip the spirit and soul from the body of the community,” business owner Danny Jennings, a 1995 graduate, wrote on Facebook.

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