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Benton Harbor schools avoid further financial reviews, for now

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Benton Harbor Area Schools will be able to follow thier own map to success by retaining local control of the district. The district will have to maintain progress in order to avoid another state review.

Michigan schools superintendent Mike Flanagan says a review of the Benton Harbor schools finds evidence of "probable financial stress." But Flanagan is not recommending a deeper, 60-day review. He says that’s because the district has taken “several steps in recent days to correct the deficit including:”

  • Close two (2) buildings at semester end in January 2012,
  • Close the district’s 5-6 grade center at year end,
  • Approved the layoff of 13 teachers, an administrator and several support staff
  • Hired Plante and Moran to manager the district’s financial services,
  • Approved the Berrien County Land Bank to demolish six (6) vacant district buildings and sell others,
  • Worked closely with the City of Benton Harbor emergeny manager and major corporations to help facilitate the deficit elimination,
  • Teacher acceptance of a 10% reduction in pay for the second semester and increased copays

Flanagan says the district must submit an updated deficit elimination plan by January 27th. And he says he reserves the right to recommend a 60-day review team if the district stops making progress.

This is the first time the state has decided against a more thorough review for a school district in financial distress. Michigan Department of Education spokeswoman Jan Ellis says that’s because leaders of Benton Harbor Schools are getting the district’s finances back on track on their own. “The action the district has taken recently to help bring its budget situation under control, give (Flanagan) hope that the review team is not necessary at this time," Ellis said. "Its certainly a positive step."

Lindsey Smith is Michigan Radio’s investigative reporter. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor and West Michigan Reporter.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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