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Benton Harbor Area Schools

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The Benton Harbor school board could vote this week to create a new advisory committee with the state to turn the district around.

The idea was floated by state officials last month, after the school board rejected an earlier proposal for the district from the Whitmer administration. The committee would include staff, teachers, and other community members, as well as state education leaders.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Less than three months ago, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration made an announcement that stunned the community in Benton Harbor.

The city’s school district was in a financial and academic crisis, the state Department of Treasury said. The district was $18.4 million in debt. Governor Whitmer said the district would have to close Benton Harbor High School for the 2020-21 school year.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The ACLU of Michigan is asking Governor Gretchen Whitmer to let local leaders in Benton Harbor decide what happens in their schools.

The ACLU delivered that message in the form of a letter to the governor’s office on Friday.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

School board members in Benton Harbor say they’ll try again to reach an agreement with the governor’s office to turn the district around.

The administration of Governor Whitmer announced a tentative agreement with the school board earlier this month, but board members said there was no agreement.

At a meeting Saturday, board members said they’re working on a new proposal

Meanwhile, interim superintendent Patricia Robinson says some teachers and parents have already decided to leave the district because of the uncertainty.

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

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.

Benton Harbor Area Schools Central Adminstration building
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

The fight for Benton Harbor High School is still alive.

The Benton Harbor school board rejected the state’s plan to close the high school.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Today is the deadline Gov. Gretchen Whitmer set for a deal to be reached between her administration and the Benton Harbor Area Schools board over the district’s future.

soldier holding GI Joe the pigeon
Courtesy of the Michigan History Center

 

Today on Stateside, we talk about rethinking how we measure whether a school is succeeding or failing. Plus, a conversation with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein about how people with disabilities bring unique, important perspectives to the workplace.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Members of the school board for Benton Harbor Area Schools say they plan to submit a plan to Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday to try to save the city’s high school.

The governor’s office says the district is $18.4 million in debt. She says closing the high school will save money and keep the entire district from dissolving. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says leaders at Benton Harbor Area Schools will get an extra week to come up with a plan to keep the district’s high school open. Whitmer took two hours of comments and questions during a town hall with residents in Benton Harbor on Wednesday.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Governor Whitmer is expected in Benton Harbor this afternoon for a town hall meeting about the city’s school district. Whitmer’s administration says Benton Harbor High School must shut down to keep the district out of financial insolvency.

Hundreds gathered in the city last night to oppose that plan.

Some drove in from around the state where schools have closed in the past.

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration is proposing to close Benton Harbor High School in fall 2020 and send students elsewhere in the corner of southwestern Michigan.

State Treasurer Rachael Eubanks says, "Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option."

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A school district in southwestern Michigan is being released from an agreement with the state put in place in 2014 to help improve its finances.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The former superintendent of the Benton Harbor Area Schools has been convicted of embezzlement charges stemming from payouts he received for unused vacation days.

A Berrien County jury convicted Leonard Seawood on Friday on all five counts of embezzlement and obtaining money under false pretenses.

He was accused of embezzling more than $40,000 from the district by taking payouts for unused vacation days.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Berrien County Prosecutor's office has filed two felony charges against former Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Leonard Seawood.

Seawood worked at Benton Harbor Area Schools from the fall of 2011 until the spring of 2015, when he was put on a paid leave while the school board conducted an investigation.  Four months later, Seawood agreed to resign for an $80,000 payout.

Seawood was charged today with one count of embezzlement and one count of obtaining money by false pretenses.

young kids playing with toys on floor
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The heads of most of the 38 schools facing closure for low academic performance are drafting agreements that would allow the schools to stay open and collaborate with the state.

The state offered the agreements as a sort of olive branch after major backlash to the closure announcements in late January.

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Administrators at Benton Harbor Area Schools are preparing for an audit from the Michigan School Reform Office to see if three of the district’s five schools will be closed.

Benton Harbor Area Schools had three buildings on the School Reform Office’s recently published list of 38 low-performing schools that could be closed this summer due to poor standardized test scores.

Brett Levin / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Most Michigan school districts operating at a deficit are making progress in balancing their budgets, according to the latest quarterly deficit report submitted to the state legislature by the Michigan Department of Education. 

Of the 40 schools that began the 2016 fiscal year with operating deficits, 18 project they'll be deficit-free by the end of June, and another 15 are planning on reducing their deficits by the end of the fiscal year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state is giving Benton Harbor Area Schools another emergency loan.

The southwest Michigan school district of roughly 2,200 students has already received more than $5 million in emergency loans from the state’s Emergency Loan Board. A Michigan treasury department spokesman says last week the appointed board approved another one, this time for $3.3 million, making it the largest loan the board has given the district so far.

There are still so many questions.

On Wednesday, Leonard Seawood released a statement about his resignation as superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools.

Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Pontiac schools are getting an emergency $10 million loan from the state to pay its employees and vendors.

This is the second $10 million emergency loan the state has given the district. The previous one was made last year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Last summer Benton Harbor schools won a three-year, $18 million grant to improve student success. But the district is having major financial problems.

Now the district says it doesn’t have the staff it needs to put the grant money to work, so it’s giving up the grant after one year. The district hopes to be able to get the grant back for the 2016-17 school year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor’s school board is working to please Michigan’s Department of Treasury so it can get an emergency loan.

The school board approved plans to let Berrien County’s intermediate school district run its business office Tuesday night. Plante Moran currently runs the office. But the switch to the county district is expected to save around $125,000 a year.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Despite some state intervention this school year, Benton Harbor schools is still struggling. This spring has been rough for the district.

Benton Harbor schools has more than a $15 million deficit. The district signed a consent agreement with the state last fall to avoid an emergency manger.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan is nearly out of money to lend school districts in case of financial emergencies.

The state treasury department had up to $50 million total to lend school districts facing financial emergencies. That amount was supposed to last through 2018. But that apparently it isn’t going to be enough.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

More Michigan school districts are dealing with a deficit. 

The numbers comes from a quarterly report filed by the State Superintendent’s office with the state legislature.

Fifty five school districts are now required to file deficit elimination plans with the state. That’s up from 48 last year. 

outside of Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Three of the five school districts that face more scrutiny from Michigan’s Department of Treasury have reduced their general fund deficits last school year. That’s according to independent audits recently filed to the state. But some still face serious, ongoing problems. Here’s a breakdown of how the districts ended the 2013-14 school year.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Benton Harbor Board of Education may take a step this evening toward getting its financial house in order. 

Benton Harbor Area Schools faces a $15 million deficit.

Last month, a state panel determined the school district is in a "financial emergency."

Monday, the state Treasury department announced that an agreement has been crafted that will “restore financial stability to Benton Harbor Area Schools as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As part of the agreement, a consultant will assist district leaders in implementing the plan.

Benton Harbor High School
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A state review team is hosting a public meeting today in Benton Harbor. The six-member team is trying to determine if Benton Harbor Area Schools is in financial stress.

The Benton Harbor school district has been running a deficit since 2006. It's cut costs, but at the same time, it also has low-performing schools that need to improve test scores to meet state and federal standards. Plus, it’s lost students every year.

It’s already closed buildings, privatized support services and gotten concessions in wages and benefits from teachers.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools has taken the next step in process that could result in an emergency manager.

Gov. Rick Snyder announced today his appointment of a six-member review team. The team has 60 days to determine if the district is in financial stress.

The district’s superintendent, Leonard Seawood, told state officials a few weeks ago it is. 

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