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Benton Harbor High School Board and State Officials Negotiation

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The closing of the high school has been hanging in the air for some time now. One would think, to this date, the people would urge the matters to resolve, yet it seems there are more rounds of negotiation to follow.

The things have come to a standstill as both sides, the state and the school board, claim the lack of cooperativeness of the other side.

If the state insists on making a unified effort in creating a solution, it cannot issue statements about having reached a tentative agreement, when, as they claim from the school board, such a deal has never been proposed, let alone reached with the state. There must be trust and collaboration, insists the board president Stephen Mitchell. The board of five, in a 5–0 vote, rejected the resolution set forth by the state by which they were previously summoned to work with the state on the proposed deal.

State officials claim that they have put forward a proposal in which they demanded from the school district an improvement of the academic performance of students (1,800 of them, with their test scores and graduation rates) as well as a reduction of $18 million debt they all have been witnessing in dismay.

Another board member, Patricia Rush, a physician with four decades of experience, confirmed that there was no agreement ever made, and particularly objected the disrespectful treatment coming from the governor’s staff.

In a statement to The Detroit News, there came a firm reaction from Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office, saying the two sides had indeed reached a tentative deal. They accused the board of failing to negotiate in good faith. Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said she was disappointed by the board’s decision.

It seems that the third party’s involvement has stirred up the dispute, which, until recently, ran more smoothly. The email communication seemed to be backing this up until the Treasury Department produced their view of the matter, i.e., sent their overview. The pressure from the residents ensued, and accusations against the board of “selling out” were made.

The tentative agreement contains listed requirements, along with a condition; if these remain unmet, the schools “operations will be suspended,” and students sent to the neighboring district to attend school.

Rush insists that the board would never agree to a deal which includes school’s closing as an option. She states that the board has a requirement of their own, being increased funding by a minimum of $1.3 million a year for filling teaching positions within the salary range more in accord with those neighboring the Benton Harbor area schools.

An evening meeting with district residents took place on the high school premises, and the atmosphere was heated. One remark was repeated by several debaters, that not much improvement could be made in a system that had been struggling for a long time, and the government’s proposal allowed only a year.

According to the overview, if the benchmarks from the plan were met, the state would provide support. However, there are no specific numbers concerning that matter. At the moment, the district is annually given $8,000 per student with $700 paying off debt.

The town’s economy has been troubled since the mid-2000s, and school enrollment has dropped to mere 50% since that time. The public school in debt seems not to be the only worrisome burden set upon the community. Government is to make a move, again.

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