Anguish in Benton Harbor as years of mistakes lead to a school’s likely demise

Tamia Clay, a senior at Benton Harbor High School, calls Benton Harbor “a broken city with broken children.” (Bridge photo by Ron French)

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

BENTON HARBOR—There is a glass case at the main entrance to Benton Harbor High School filled with state championship trophies. That case is just for the school’s basketball teams. Walk down the cracked-floor hallways toward the main office, and there are at least three more trophy cases recognizing the school’s illustrious past.

But along the same hallways are signals of the school’s uncertain future. Signs, orange poster board taped to white plaster, are hand-written in black marker. “Keep our school open,” pleads one.

“I just feel like yall shouldn’t close down the school,” reads another. “Because what other high school gonna accept us?”

“Folks underestimate our students and their commitment to their own learning. It’s the adults who have let them down, from the Department of Education down to the school board.” — Robert Herrera, CEO, Benton Harbor Area Schools

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants this community’s one high school to close and students to be dispersed among as many as 10 other area schools. The Benton Harbor School Board has until June 14 to approve a plan to close the high school or risk dissolving the entire district.

The school board has vowed to not even take a vote on the Whitmer plan, meaning if Whitmer follows through on her threat, the Legislature may vote to dissolve the entire school district in this low-income city. It’s an outcome that became more likely Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R- Clarklake, came out in favor of closing the high school or dissolving the district if the school board didn’t get on board with the plan.

Related: Albion lost its high school; students did better. Is Benton Harbor next?
Opinion: Please, Gov. Whitmer, fix Benton Harbor High. Don’t close it.

Teachers blame administrators. Administrators blame the board. The board blames the state. And caught in the middle are some of Michigan’s most vulnerable students with some of the lowest academic achievement in the state.

“The students are symptoms of extremely poor adult behavior and decision-making,” said Robert Herrera, CEO of Benton Harbor Area Schools. “Folks underestimate our students and their commitment to their own learning. It’s the adults who have let them down, from the Department of Education down to the school board.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tried to answer the questions of Benton Harbor residents Wednesday. It wasn’t a receptive audience. (Bridge photo by Ted Roelofs)

Low scores, high debt

While the state wants to close just the high school, the entire district has devastatingly poor academic achievement.

Just 3 percent of third-graders scored proficient or higher in English Language Arts on the M-STEP, the state’s standardized test, in 2017-18. The state rate was 44 percent.

Just 1 percent of 8th graders were proficient in math, compared to 33 percent statewide.

An analysis by Bridge Magazine and Stanford University found that Benton Harbor had the lowest achievement among eighth-graders in Michigan, with the typical eighth-grader testing at a level below that of a fifth-grader.

Six out of 10 Benton Harbor students are chronically absent, more than triple the statewide average.

Related: In Benton Harbor schools, a lesson for – and about – Gretchen Whitmer​
Related: Candidate Whitmer: A right to literacy. As Michigan Guv: No need to address.

The high school’s graduation rate was 66 percent in 2017 compared to 81 percent statewide. And among 2011-12 graduates, just 6 percent went on to earn an associate’s degree or higher six years after getting their Benton Harbor diploma. That’s one-sixth the state rate.

“This is an academic emergency,” said a spokesperson for the governor's office, who talked on condition they not be named. “The governor is thinking what is in the best interests of these students, right now.”

A jaw-dropping 64 percent of K-12 students who live within district boundaries already attend school in surrounding traditional school districts or charter schools, taking their $8,000-a-year state funding with them. As students fled the district, the schools had less and less money for services for the children who remained, sending more families toward the exits.

“Why would you take it away from us? Honestly, we don’t deserve this. We are way smarter than you make us out to be.” — Ta’nae Allen, 10th grade, to Gov. Whitmer

A district that enrolled more than 10,000 students in the 1970s has under 2,000 today.

Meanwhile, the school district is $12 million in debt, which means $700 out of each student’s $8,000 per-pupil funding going toward loan repayment rather than the classroom.

And those classrooms are often led not by certified teachers, but by long-term substitutes, who are only required to have 60 hours of college credit in any subject. This year, 45 percent of Benton Harbor classrooms were long-term substitutes; next school year, the district estimates the figure to be 60 percent.

The impoverished district has difficulty attracting teachers because it offers the lowest pay in the county, with first-year teachers earning about $28,000 ‒ low enough for a family of four to receive food stamps.

The upshot: The children in Berrien County with the greatest need for good teachers are the least likely to have them in their classroom.

“How can you ask (students) to meet standardized testing, when in their core classes, they’re led by people who know nothing about education?” asked Joseph Taylor, vice president of the Benton Harbor school board.

The high school’s library was chained shut for several years because the district had run out of money to operate it. Community volunteers reopened it and stocked it with books they purchased at garage sales, hauling the books to the school in the trunks of their cars.

“This is the Flint water of education,” school library volunteer Enid Goldstein said. “It’s educational apartheid.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to close Benton Harbor High School, where test scores are devastatingly low. Would it help students, or hurt them? (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Whitmer faces Benton Harbor

At a small church a few blocks from Benton Harbor High School, Whitmer on Wednesday did her best to explain the closing to a skeptical crowd.

Few in the audience of about 200 were buying her plan.

“Benton Harbor High School is not only a high school. It’s a home,” said Ta’nae Allen, a tenth grader, who faced Whitmer at a hastily-called town hall. “Why would you take it away from us? Honestly, we don’t deserve this. We are way smarter than you make us out to be.”

Whitmer argued her plan to close the high school is the best way to spare a district saddled with debt and poor test scores from dissolution, a claim Benton Harbor resident Marvin Haywood said he can’t accept.

“How can you close down something that’s part of the community? That’s not even an option. It would destroy the community,” said Haywood, a 1983 graduate of the high school.

As one angry speaker followed another, Whitmer at one point conceded: “I can see (my plan) is not being met with a lot of enthusiasm with many people in this room.”

Still, Whitmer insisted in the long run it is the best path forward for district students.

“This is tough stuff we are talking about,” she told the crowd. “It’s a big problem we’ve got to confront. We’ve got to get serious about supporting our children.”

Having originally set a deadline of Friday, Whitmer said she would give the school board another week to consider the plan. That drew sarcastic hoots from the crowd, some of whom had asked for a year or two to develop a way of saving the high school.

Students posted signs around Benton Harbor High School urging officials to keep the school open. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Downward spiral

A similar public meeting at the high school Tuesday evening drew more than 200 community members. They sang the school fight song and railed against the state’s threat to close the school.

Benton Harbor High senior Tamia Clay spoke to the crowd, urging them to recognize that the community and its schools have problems.

“You have a broken community with broken children inside of it,” Clay said.

Benton Harbor is one of the poorest communities in Michigan. The median household income is $20,157 (the state median is $52,668); among the city’s 10,000 residents, 48 percent of adults and 68 percent of children live below the federal poverty line.

Academic achievement is stubbornly tied to income, so it’s not surprising Benton Harbor students perform below the state average. But even among low-income districts, Benton Harbor stands out for its low achievement.

The district has been under the eye of the state Department of Education since 2010 because of low student achievement. The district hasn’t made significant progress, and last year, MDE threatened to close the high school unless the board agreed to enter a partnership agreement with the state. Under that agreement, the board gave up most of its power to operate the district and put state-named CEO Robert Herrera in charge of what was supposed to be a five-year turnaround plan.

Herrera, who helped lead a successful district turnaround effort in Adrian, told Bridge Magazine he had a three-year plan that included consolidating several school buildings in the district and paying down debt. In his first year, scores on a standardized mid-year test showed growth, Herera said.

But after that one year, the state pulled the plug ‒ a shock to local school officials.

“This is just like a hammer out of nowhere, saying you will do this or else,” said Kevin Ivers, superintendent of Berrien Regional Education Service Agency, which provides services to school districts in the county. “I’ve tried to figure out, what is the end game? What’s the hidden agenda? I honestly don’t know.”

Benton Harbor High teacher Marilyn Ross-Golden said she does not believe the school’s majority black students will do better in  neighboring districts that are overwhelmingly white. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Lame duck surprise

Triggering the state decision was one line added to a bill in the waning hours of the Legislature’s lame-duck session in December. In the hours before a bill to create an A-to-F school accountability system was passed, a line was added that terminated the School Reform Office, an office that oversaw the one-of-its-kind partnership agreement with Benton Harbor.

It’s unclear who added the language or why it was added. But the possibly unintended consequence of that one line is that the partnership agreement will end as of June 30, and control of the district will return to the elected school board.

The administration was concerned about turning control back to the same Benton Harbor board that had run up a deficit and failed to take actions over many years to improve learning, the Whitmer spokesperson said.

“That was part of the urgency, not wanting to just hand the district back to the local school board and it not be in a place it could be financially solvent,” the spokesperson said.

“What the governor couldn’t ignore was the academic emergency in the high school, not wanting to wait another five or 10 years to see some improvement and allowing those students to graduate without real options in life.”

The median SAT score for Benton Harbor juniors is 765. Not a single student from the high school scored high enough on the SAT or ACT to be considered “college ready” in the past five years.

Benton Harbor residents turned out by the hundreds this week to vent their anger at a state plan to close the city’s high school.  (Bridge photo by Ted Roelofs)

Different school, better outcome?

Under Whitmer’s plan, Benton Harbor high schoolers would enroll in several charter schools or eight neighboring traditional school districts.

“We’re thinking about those 14, 15, 16-year-olds, giving them a chance to complete their education with certified teachers, with access to counselors and wraparound services and opportunity for early college credit and  post-secondary advisors,” the spokesperson said. “This governor has always put student academic success as the number one driver, period.”

But would switching schools lead to better academic achievement? Studies are mixed on that question. But a 2014 University of Chicago study of more than 200 Michigan school closings found students from low-performing closed schools improved academically at their new schools.

Academics aren’t the only concern among Benton Harbor residents worried about being bused to other districts. Nine out of 10 Benton Harbor students are black; the traditional districts they would be able to transfer to range from 26 percent to 2 percent African-American.

Six of the 10 traditional districts have student populations that are 10 percent black of lower.

“I don’t think if Johnny’s little brother was shot last night, if he’s bused to Watervliet (2 percent African-American), they’ll understand that,” said Marilyn Ross-Golden, who has taught social studies at the high school for 31 years. “I was raised a Southern Baptist, and I wouldn’t feel confident knowing how to teach Hindu in India.”

Ross-Golden said she’s “lost count” of the number of superintendents and principals she’s worked under. Both CEO Herrera and Benton Harbor High Principal Lanada Avinger are in the first year of their jobs and neither is from the community. Herrera is leaving to become superintendent in Farmington, meaning the district will have its sixth superintendent in 10 years next school year.

“They (students) are so used to people running out on them,” Ross-Golden said. “They need someone who’s going to be here for them. They have enough challenges (outside of school).”

Even if students struggle academically now, Ross-Golden said she doesn’t believe Benton Harbor students will be better off if the high school closes. That would just compound mistakes made over the years that have hurt students. “Some of the decisions that are made, you can’t convince me they’re made with the children in mind.”

That sentiment was repeated by Berrien RESA Superintendent Ivers. The problems in Benton Harbor over the past decade are “an example of lack of focus on children at all levels,” Ivers said.

Enid Goldstein and fellow volunteers reopened the high school library that had been chained shut and abandoned due to lack of money. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

What’s next

On Wednesday, Whitmer gave the school board until June 14 to approve the plan to close the high school and turn Benton Harbor into a K-8 district.

Board vice president Taylor told Bridge the board won’t vote on the plan. “We’re giving the state the finger,” Taylor said.

If the board doesn’t vote or votes down the state plan, the governor will “discuss next steps with the Legislature,” which could vote to dissolve the entire district, the spokesperson said.

Whether that will happen is unclear. Shirkey, the Republican Senate Leader, said Wednesday he supports Whitmer’s plan.

“This is a thoughtful plan that ensures a Benton Harbor K-8 district and will provide every student better opportunities to graduate and prepare for his or her career plan,” Shirkey said in a statement.

If the school board doesn’t approve the plan, “The alternative is dissolution. While we acknowledge that as an option, we are hopeful the local school board will support the state's plan and do the right thing for the students and families of Benton Harbor.”

Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, whose district includes Benton Harbor, could not be reached Wednesday for comment on the potential closing of the high school.

But she introduced a bill that would assure Benton Harbor students can qualify for the Benton Harbor Promise, which pays tuition and fees to community colleges and career tech programs, no matter what high school they attend.  

(Magdalena Mihaylova contributed to this report)

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Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:54am

It’s cultural. Dispersing the students will not solve this cultural problem. Even though it is probably the best solution.

Jannie Kiser
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:51am

If it's cultural, how is this the best solution? Am I missing something? The problem is deeper than cultural. You have to examine the unconscious bias that exist in Berrien County, and unfortunately amongst teachers and administrators. No, it's not intentional, but UB is like an infectious disease, it can and often creeps into our daily lives, opinions and beliefs. This problem began with the desegregation of the schools, inequity in school funding, hiring superintendents who knew nothing about the everyday workings of Benton Harbor, grant programs that were initiated but when the funding ran out there was no more money to continue the program. BHAS had one of the best tech programs in the state, they cut that, and programs are continuously being cut. Curriculums were bought, implemented and discarded at the end of the school year and sometimes in the middle of the school year. This problem includes the current union president, teachers, parents, community leaders and administrators. Children will only do what we allow them to do, and as one student stated, "they (the teachers) don't expect us to do better, you can tell the first day of school, that they have no expectations for us. And, if your teaching staff is over 35% long term subs, that says a lot within itself. Michigan ranks #49 out of the 50 states in providing quality education for its students and yet, you single out urban schools like Inkster, Detroit and now Benton Harbor. Could there be some institutional racism involve in this process? Highland park students sued the state and lost, the judge stated the State's constitution guaranteed them a free education but not necessarily one of equity.

Sherry A Wells
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 9:01am

I was at Tuesday's meeting, held in the high school. As the students complained, the media rarely covers the good news, even Bridge this time. One senior has been admitted to Stanford and the only white student in the school system is getting a full ride to an out-of-state university. The white teen has been in Benton Harbor schools all the way and praised the teachers and does not believe the students will have a fair chance in all those other schools, plus it will tear apart the community. The student-created PowerPoint asked the Governor to "fix the darn schools." Charter schools take huge amounts of money from the budgets of already poor districts. (You rarely if ever see them in white, affluent districts--think about it.) This happened to Benton Harbor. The "Partnership Agreement" included Whirlpool and "community" organizations with another agenda--one was likely the church where Whitmer held her meeting--what about the "separation of church and state?" The high school is close to the riverfront, in the way of development. A Grosse Pointe High School, close to the Detroit River, has offered sailing classes; Benton Harbor HS gets slated for demolition. The reporter neglected to tell that people from Inkster and Buena Vista, two now destroyed school districts, came in support as did two dozen in a bus from Detroit, many others from Flint and West Michigan. Per the Michigan Constitution, the Governor is ex oficio ONLY with regard to the State Board of Education. This is the 3rd time that the School Reform Office has been yanked from the State Board--declared illegal but it keeps happening, by a Republican Governor and now two Dems. As the new State Board superintendent said, when he was a panel member at a Detroit forum, "I drove from Kalamazoo, (where he was superintendent) because your children are our children and what they do to yours, they will do to ours."

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 1:42pm

Sherry, that last sentence in your comment is so powerful.

Sherry A Wells
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 10:29am

I quoted Dr. Michael Rice, outgoing superintendent of Kalamazoo School District, incoming superintendent of the Michigan Dept. of Education and its State Board of Education. Check out his blogs on the Kalamazoo School District website for more wonderful statements!
PS Correction--the three governors who removed the School Reform Office from the State Board--Engler, Snyder and now Whitmer. Granholm reinstated it and Snyder did but only as he was leaving office.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 4:14pm

You have yet to make an argument to keep the school open. My has been failing for decades....whoopee-a couple of students succeeded to advance to college. The lack of academic achievement is very clear as written in the article. Many studies show that Money is not the answer to solving education woes to the masses that come from a lack of family structure, where education is not a priority and the demographic of Generational Comfortable Poverty. Change must come from within the community to show strides in achievement that in turns takes advantages of resources and opportunities.

John Q. Public
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 7:52pm

So, a student is admitted to Stanford without (according to the story) scoring well enough on the ACT or SAT to be considered college-ready? I hope someone does that student a favor and makes sure (s)he doesn't go to Stanford, where (s)he will almost certainly fail. Put the student in a better position to succeed at WMU, EMU or CMU.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 9:10am

Standardized tests? Really? These are cheap, extremely expensive, wasteful of class time, invalid and manipulative tools used to mangle curriculum and only measure how good a person is at test-taking.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:47am

Abolish the federal department of education and return ALL schools to local school boards. Federal involvement and "standardized testing" has failed citizens for decades...

Nickolas Armstrong
Fri, 08/09/2019 - 4:38pm

Years of local school board mismanagement is what lead to these problems to begin with.

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:49am

"These are cheap, extremely expensive ...." Huh? We should assume you don't like what the tests show for results? So kids from BH are really turning out to wildly successful Rhodes Scholars and Nobel prize winners in spite of what these tests have indicated?

Bob Sornson
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 10:09am

The plan is to close the High School, and allow the K-8 system that produces so few proficient readers and mathematicians to remain open. Tell me how that plan solves the education misery that has been inflicted upon these children?
Are there any adults left who might actually know how to run a high-quality school for this small community and demonstrate how well these beautiful children are able to learn?

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 10:43am

[Caveat: I'm not an educational expert by any stretch of the imagination and I'm not truly familiar with the dynamics of the crisis] In my opinion, one of the most important issues is how to best accommodate Benton Harbor's current students while planning for the future. Given that there is the appearance that the school is short of qualified teachers, was consideration made to the possibility of 1) Temporarily closing the school and moving students to other school districts 2) "Rebuilding" the educational core of the high school's programs with an eye at reopening it? It does seem very concerning (and likely) that current BH HS students will have difficulty adapting to other area schools, but it sounds like continuing the high school under the current structure does a greater disservice to the students.

Steve Losey
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 1:48pm

Now that Herrera has failed miserably (while getting paid extremely well) in Benton Harbor, he is moving on to destroy the Farmington Public School District. (what that Board was thinking when they hired him?????? No clue???)

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 5:15pm

no doubt that is the intention, to destroy those schools so that the poor kids can be crowded into profitable private schools at least until priced out of any education at all except for home schooling.

Dave Fiebig
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 4:28pm

Let's look at the money. 2000 students X $7300 each = $14,600,000 per year. 2000 students divided by 30 per classroom = 66 classrooms (approximate). $14,600,000 divided by 66 classrooms = $221,000 per classroom. What can a classroom cost??? Teacher = $50,000, Supplies = $6,000 (200 per student?), Maintenance = $2,500 (4 main. at $40,000 divided by 66 classrooms), Utilities = $2,000 per classroom (+/-), Administration = $3,000 (one Sup. at $100,000 and 2 Sec. at $50,000 each) = $63,500 total out of $221,000 available. WHY ARE THEY HAVING A MONEY PROBLEM??? Show me where I am wrong. I took into account the debt of $700 per student per year. Even if the costs are double what I wrote, there would still be over $100,000 left over. Where does it go. Does the School Board get paid? Are there way more Administrators than I accounted for (if so, get rid of them). I just don't get the math when they say they are broke.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 12:00pm

To start, teachers get salaries averaging $62,000 in Michigan, and their health care, disability, etc. insurance benefits cost another 30% of pay on top of that. Same goes for the maintenance people if they are school district employees rather than contract workers. So each teacher costs a total of around $90k per year, and each maintenance worker closer to $65k per year than $40k. Plus, you didn't allow anything for consumable maintenance supplies such as toilet paper, paper towels, paint, hardware and cleaning compounds, and replacement blinds, lights, or furniture. Call that another $2000 per classroom. I have no quibble with your $200/student in supplies if by that you mean copy paper, workbooks, etc. but you've forgotten textbooks, at another $500 or so per student per year towards the eventual replacement of paper textbooks or the annual rental / lease of e-books.

You also severely underestimated the number of administrators and support staff that Michigan school districts seem to have. In addition to the district Superintendent, at least one assistant superintendent in charge of secondary education and their support staff at the central office, Benton Harbor High School has at least a principal and one assistant principal, who get $100-125k apiece in salary, plus 30% for those health and disability insurance benefits, guidance counselors and/or social workers and their secretary / appointments clerk, and probably an Athletic Director. The secretaries / support staff cost at least $60k per year per person. The rest of those people are getting $100-150k / year in salary, plus the 30% additional cost of their benefits.

Retirement benefits through MPSERS cost each Michigan traditional public school district an additional 27% of their total payroll, or roughly 23% of their total per-pupil funding from the state. Gov. Snyder separated out much of the MPSERS retirement funding from the per pupil grant you cited, because most charter schools get the state minimum in per-pupil grant money, but they either offer no retirement benefits or have only defined contribution plans. That's the basis of the lie that claims that Michigan has cut education funding by $1 billion per year under Gov. Snyder.

John Q. Public
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:01pm

Was the superintendent from Marshall consulted? This sounds a lot like the Albion story from a few years ago; how has that worked out? I somehow doubt that more money for classrooms will help when 60% of the students are chronically absent.

Fri, 06/07/2019 - 12:28am

Better question to ask....why is that school district even open? Those scores are beyond awful! Everyone screwed those kids, especially their parents! If my kids were in that district, i would have done what most parents have already done, send them somewhere else! Do those poor kids a favor and close the entire district, not just the high school. One more thing, for everyone against standardized testing, how else are you going to know if students know what 2+2 is or if cat is a noun.

abe bubush
Fri, 06/07/2019 - 5:56am

Unfortunately dissolution may be the best option. The defacto segregation of BH due to white flight will be addressed in the process.

Norm Perry
Sun, 06/09/2019 - 8:22pm

The real tragedy is the antics of the Benton Harbor leaders have lead to this system failure to the extent, in my humble opinion, it is beyond saving. The school enrollment is 20% of what it was a few years ago and is not likely to improve in the foreseeable future. The Governor's action, while most sad, is inevitable for a community which no longer supports its schools. I see no realistic alternative and believe at this point, the whole schools system should be shut down. Let those who have been successful with schools lead the way.

grandpa cocoa
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 3:16am

the bottom line is the school board has failed the students and the community. Total waste of resources, the money was available, but wasted or misspent on non educational programs and administration salaries. The best solution is to close the entire school system and transfer the students into another district.

Tue, 06/11/2019 - 9:16am

Splitting up the students makes not sense. Merging the district with St Joseph makes the most sense. You don't break up the friendships and local connections that the students have, you get economies of scale from having a larger district, and you break down the segregation that has played a big role in the difficulties that the Benton Harbor district has.

For a point of comparison, when the FDIC resolves a failing bank, they don't split it among 10 competing banks, they select one bank to take over its accounts.

Michigan Observer
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 9:33pm

The authors say "Academic achievement is stubbornly tied to income, so it’s not surprising Benton Harbor students perform below the state average." That is just not the case. Both academic achievement and income are tied to a third factor: ability and ambition. People with ability and ambition tend to earn good incomes and do well academically. Less talented and ambitious people don't do well in either area. Academic success is not, within broad limits, a matter of resources.

An example of the irrelevance of resources is the attendance problem. "Six out of 10 Benton Harbor students are chronically absent, more than triple the statewide average." The Coleman Report, commissioned by LBJ in the early days of the civil rights movement, said that funding differences between black and white schools weren't that large and didn't make much difference, but that a crucial factor in the poor performance of the black schools was absenteeism. More than a small number of absences sharply reduced the chances of academic success. How much money would it take to compensate for Benton Harbor;s high rate of absenteeism? A lot. And why does it occur? Surely, it wouldn't take much beside some time, energy and effort on the part of parents to prevent?

Did the authors interview any of the students vehemently opposing the closing of the high school ? Did they ask them how many times they had been absent. If they placed such a high value on their school, and their education, surely, they would have had good attendance records.

Jaye Bergamini
Wed, 07/03/2019 - 4:21pm

What has been done by BH to address its awful attendance issue? What has been done to help parents (who perhaps are poorly educated themselves) keep up with their kids education needs? What has been done to assure that the BH school board is well qualified to run the district? Why has the poor educational outcome for several generations of BH students not been solved in all these years? I've gone back more than 15 years in news research about this district...where have the parents been? I see the same lamentations by public officials that are being heard today. In the end, the parents are the ones who are responsible for seeing that their kids are properly educated, and the parents should be up in arms. Yet the loudest voices seem to be the union workers employed by the district trying to save their jobs, not save the kids futures. Did all the "good" parents move their kids to better schools already? Are the students still in the district the difficult ones with challenges that no one wants in their schools? These are the thoughts that nag at me as I read about this district. I'd really like to hear from some BH parents about their view of the schools they send their children to, and what they face trying to get the best for the kids.
I've heard some mention of Benton Harbor High School sitting on a valuable piece of land that is rumored to be desired by developers. I can certainly understand that the people of BH are suspicious about the intentions of developers and their friends in city and county government. I sure would be, given the history of how African American communities have been robbed of their resources and kicked to the curb. How much is the land worth? Maybe think outside the box, and instead of waiting to get railroaded, make some plans. How about partnering with developers? Require anyone who wants the land to build a new high school and to pay off all or most of the district's debt to the State.
Look for the money. If the school district is dissolved, what happens to property taxes in the dissolved district? Does the school funding portion just go away? That's 12 mills on residential property and 18 mills on all other; do those taxes still get collected? Is talk of closing the schools hiding a bid to lower corporate property taxes?
Please give me in-depth coverage of the community's thought on all this, and ask BH citizens a hard question: how the heck did you let this happen for so long and why didn't you do something about it years ago? Your schools, which you say are the heart and soul of your community, are in the toilet. Who lets their kids futures be wiped out by bad attendance, lousy teaching and a lack of vision? Parents who ignore their kids education are guilty of neglect and can have their kids taken away. BH parents are looking at having their kids high school taken away. Why would BH parents allow something so important to their kids identity to whither away? How do you look your kids in the eyes if you continue to be negligent about their education?