Opinion | Please, Gov. Whitmer, fix Benton Harbor High. Don’t close it.

Tiffany Tilley is a Democratic member of the Michigan State Board of Education. She lives in Southfield.

Update: New Michigan school superintendent: Keep Benton Harbor High open
Update: Gov. Whitmer to Benton Harbor High: Raise scores, balance books or close
Update: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Benton Harbor reach tentative deal to save high school

Taking the one and only high school out of a community is as violent and brutal as ripping a baby out of a mother’s arms. A mother will go out of her way to help her child and protect her child. She will exhaust all resources.

Benton Harbor has requested adequate resources from the state to help educate the children of that district. It is failing, and the state needs to take responsibility for its part.

You cannot expect a world-class system from a system that does not get close to world-class funding. We have to balance our expectations; we cannot expect an electric car to go another 20 miles when it’s running out of power. We have to give it the power it needs to arrive at the intended destination. If we want our schools in low-income areas to do better, we have to do better with funding them.

Related: Anguish in Benton Harbor as years of mistakes lead to a school’s likely demise
Related: In Benton Harbor schools, a lesson for – and about – Gretchen Whitmer​
Related: Albion lost its high school; students did better. Is Benton Harbor next?

The way that we currently fund schools in Michigan under Proposal A is failing them - it still leaves holes in the bucket. Until the holes are filled our schools will continue to decay, and our children, the children of this state, will continue to suffer.

Declining enrollment has hit this community hard as it has in so many communities across our state and across our nation. Inadequate funding hurts our schools in numerous ways, especially those who are already suffering from the achievement gap. However, closing the doors of the high school will not repair the damage that has been done in the community or to those children. Uprooting them from their school and disseminating them to over half a dozen schools, mostly outside of their community, particularly in areas where they may face racial tension and discrimination, that will not help them.

In fact, the emotional stress could cause irreparable damage. Our children deserve stability, in an environment where they can thrive academically, emotionally, and socially. That is what we should focus on creating.

The state has offered to eliminate most of the debt, but at what cost to the community? For too long the state has intervened in the dismantling and destruction of education in poor, minority communities. Emergency management and the failed EAA has caused grave damage to the Detroit Public School system; Inkster Public Schools have been dismantled and the community is still in upheaval from having to bus kids to neighboring communities and the ramifications; Highland Park has recently come out from under an emergency manager and is completely chartered; Muskegon Heights has been rattled down to the playgrounds.

The stories of the damage done is synonymous. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So many of us hoped that with the changing of the guard politically, we would see positive changes in the most vulnerable of communities. This is nothing more than emergency management and dictatorship.

The community, leadership, and stakeholders should be at the table to help make decisions for its own future. For the future of the community they have to live in.

The issues that have led up to Benton Harbor’s current state are largely due to inequitable funding, but let’s be honest, the current resolution offered by the state is a consistent theme throughout our school districts in Michigan, that revolve around race and class. Let’s be on the right side of history. Let’s work together to build stronger schools, and stronger communities - not dismantle them.

I stand with Benton Harbor’s leadership and school board asking the governor, the treasury department and our legislators to stop pouring water into a leaky bucket and fix the holes. Eliminate the debt, so per-pupil funding is going solely into the schools; finally make needed amendments to Proposal A, creating equitable funding and funding for infrastructure; lastly allow time for the leadership which has not had autonomy since 2014, to turn all K-12 schools around under the Partnership Agreement that will soon be reinstated by the Michigan Department of Education.

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Fri, 06/07/2019 - 7:46am

Maybe this is the problem ...The thinking that somehow Lansing is going to step and and "Fix" as if they really have any idea what your kids need. Beyond this if parents and kids have alternatives to their failing Public schools and enough still want to stay in them ... Ok.

Bob Beans
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 2:04pm

Perhaps you missed that the charter in Benton Harbor closed and when it was open was a disaster. In fact, most problems in education and funding didn't exist until Michigan allowed charter schools. A move that has coincided with the consistent decline in Michigan's education ranking as charters were allowed to expand. But if you want to sell the concept that expanding for-profit private charter operators as an "alternative" that "fixes" the problems and ignore all the problems that came with the existence of charter schools in Michigan, then go ahead. It just shows how little you actually know about the problem.

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 7:48am

And the BHPS is an utter disaster and we're having this argument whether it should be closed, seems strange if charter school doesn't perform, parents yank their kids and it's closed, that's the way it should work. Public schools with their 100 year head start and funding advantages fail and what? Maybe it's because one has union teachers and the other doesn't, maybe is what you issue really is?

Sun, 06/09/2019 - 3:45pm

Maybe because one school can cherry pick its students and the other can't?

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 12:17pm

And you know that doesn't happen. Parents who are concerned move their kids to charters. That's the key! Concerned Parents!!!

Paul Clements
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 8:40am


David Andrews
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 9:17am

I agree that The Benton Harbor Schools should remain in Benton Harbor; I disagree that it is a matter of funding. We need to keep the physical school buildings, but we need to scrap the system! I personally would like to see Western Michigan university accept the school system and use it as a teaching laboratory. You want a teaching degree from WMU, spend a year at BH Schools - you want a PhD in Ed, write your Thesis on BH Schools. How about a Masters in building management - learn by doing. I suspect that, without increasing funding, WMU could make BH a model school within 5 years.

The BH Tigers deserve nothing less!

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 11:04am

Great idea! But people who wish should be able to opt out.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 9:48am

In order to fix Benton Harbor you have to start all over from scratch. Get rid of the corrupt government and school board. Have it state run for 5 years to start. Classify it as an enterprise zone again to bring business back to Benton Harbor. Get rid of the tax on people working in Benton Harbor. Benton Harbor receives plenty of money. Get rid of the victim mentality.

James F Bish
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 9:57am

Tiffany Tillery's analysis is right on point. However, I fear she is like John the Baptist, crying in the wilderness of the bipartisan program to destroy public education in Michigan, This program begin with Gov. Engler & embraced by subsequent democratic & republican administrations, now appears to have been embraced by Gov. Whitmer.
I hope Tiffany can find her way out of the wilderness & join us common folks in resisting this outrage.

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 4:12pm

Problem is not money or the schools...It is time to put blame on Students and the Family (or lack of) that they come from. The majority of students come from Single Mothers with no emphasis on education...the growing demographic of Generational Comfortable Poverty. People want these schools to remain open regardless that for decades only 3% of 3rd Graders can read and for the past 5 Years ZERO Percent of 11th Graders are college ready. These schools are nothing more than neighborhood Community Centers. People wanting to keep these schools open are satisfied with the education level.

Sherry A Wells
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 10:23am

I enjoyed the strong statements above. However, I think the Partnership Agreement concept needs to be investigated. From talking with Benton Harbor residents long before this Tuesday's meeting, it appears that the organizations who sign onto those Agreements have more self-interest than concern about the educational needs. Go Bridge!

Fred J
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 2:15pm

This half measure tells us the Republicans really don't want to fix the problem.

Also... If I have to spend a full minute getting through CAPTCHA it isn't worth the time to comment.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 3:05pm

Apparently she is not aware of the history there. The school system has been a leaky bucket of money for decades. The school board couldn't turn it around with more money, how is the state going to save it, by dumping millions more in to it serving ever fewer kids? Another paper had a very long and in depth article about Benton Harbor a few years ago. By far, the biggest problem is the lack of community involvement. They only have a couple of people show up to any local government meetings. The emergency manager went in and cut so much waste, it cut the city budget in half. Unless the city attracts more businesses to create jobs and increase the tax base, as well as the district come up with some program so most of the kids show up to school every day, there won't be much hope of saving it.

Sat, 06/08/2019 - 12:23am

Why is it always someone else's fault? Blame Trump, Blame Snyder, Blame Lansing, Blame the School Board, Blame the teachers! You never hear anyone blame the parents! It should start and end with the parents. You don't need to be wealthy to take an interest in your child's education. Instead of making excuses, become the solution. Take ten minutes from watching Game of Thrones and read with your kid. Those test scores are deplorable. Do every child a favor and close the entire district. How did this story start? Something about ripping a child from it's mothers arms?? When that mother is harming that child, damn straight! Rip Away!

Richard R. Luczak
Mon, 06/10/2019 - 3:06am

Benton Harbor needs emergency reparations (for slavery and racism) to respond to chronic poverty in the Black community and especially poor performance in the schools.

Mon, 06/17/2019 - 9:04am

Funniest comment I've read in a month. Me, I help mentor at-risk kids. I don't remember seeing marks of chains on their wrists or ankles and no whip marks on their backs. Forget that overused excuse of slavery. Reparations aren't going to happen, so don't waste your time. I suggest instead of the easy fix - throwing money we don't have away, take the hard road and find and help a kid. I'm retiring soon. I plan on finding and helping more children at need.