State officials have reached a tentative agreement with the Benton Harbor school board that could keep the district's high school open.
The agreement comes after a two-hour meeting between Governor Gretchen Whitmer's administration and Benton Harbor school board officials on Wednesday.
Tiffany Brown, spokeswoman for Whitmer, says the plan is for the school board to set realistic goals for improving outcomes for Benton Harbor students and handling the current $18.4 million debt.
In a statement, Brown said:
"Representatives from the governor’s office and the Department of Treasury had a productive meeting with Benton Harbor school board members regarding a tentative joint plan that requires the district to meet attainable benchmarks and goals to show improvement in academic outcomes among Benton Harbor area students while stabilizing the finances of the district."
Brown says a real path exists now to keep the high school open. "If the board accepts the terms of the plan, yes, and the district will need to meet the benchmarks of the plans," Brown said.
The state proposed a plan in May that would have closed Benton Harbor High School. The district refused to do so in part BHHS is its only remaining high school.
Joseph Taylor, the Benton Harbor School Board Vice President, says he feels good about the tentative plan with the state.
"We’re still in negotiations, but it looks to be pretty good," Taylor said. "We’re working out the best possible scenario which is in the best interest of our students."
Taylor says the board is scheduled to meet with Whitmer's team the week of July 10.
As Bridge Magazine reports, the agreement will need to be approved by a vote of the school board:
Whitmer’s plan to shutter the high school caused an uproar in low-income, African-American majority Benton Harbor, and among many Democrats across the state, including the two African-American members of the State Board of Education.
Both sides toned down rhetoric in the past week as officials looked for a way to save the community’s high school and still provide some assurances of better academic opportunities for students.
According to Brown, of the governor's office, the tentative agreement would leave the high school open for the coming school year. The school could still be closed if the district doesn’t show academic improvement.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the tentative agreement included any debt relief for the district. Currently, about $700 of every student’s per-pupil funding, currently about $8,000 per year, goes to debt payments.
An early version of a deal Benton Harbor made to the state included an offer to sell some district-owned property to help relieve some debt.