BENTON HARBOR — Former Benton Harbor City Manager Darwin Watson is the newest trustee on the Benton Harbor school board.

Trustees unanimously chose him at a special meeting Tuesday after interviewing four applicants. Watson will take the place of former President Stephen Mitchell, who died in September.

Trustee Matthew Bradley said Watson brings with him years of experience working with city government, including when the city was under state-appointed emergency managers several years ago.

After the meeting, Watson said he developed relationships with several people working in state government during that time.

“I can offer that expertise to the board and help try to navigate around how the state works,” he said. 

The district first came under state control in 2014 when it was declared to be in a financial emergency and the state had a consent agreement consultant in charge of most decisions. Since then, the district has also been under a partnership agreement and a cooperative agreement with the state. 

The last agreement went away July 1 due to changes in state law. Trustees are now working on forming an advisory committee with the state that will be given the task of helping the district move forward in a sustainable way.

During the meeting, Watson said he has two adult children who have gone through the school system, with his youngest recently graduating from Benton Harbor High School, and that he is now working as a consultant for a local company.

He said the school district needs to prepare the students to compete for jobs in today’s world.

“This district is a gem. ... What has to happen now is the community has to galvanize behind the fact that we are not only competing in a local economy, we’re competing in a state economy as well as the national and global economy,” he said.

To do that, he said the school board needs to show a united front.

“You can effectively agree to disagree, but you don’t have to be disagreeable,” he said. “The one thing that always has to happen is there has to be unity amongst the board, even if you don’t agree with the decision because ... your viewpoint may not be the one that came forward. You still have to respect the wishes of the majority.”

He said the biggest challenge facing public education today is funding.

“The funding source and funding mechanism that exists for public education is broken, and it needs to be fixed and it needs to be revamped,” he said. 

Watson said he believes that charter schools and schools of choice are part of the problem.

“I don’t think you get a better education,” he said. “I think it’s just an alternate way, honestly, for people to make money.”

After the meeting, Vice President Joseph Taylor said Watson’s term will end in December 2020 if he isn’t elected in November 2020.

The other people interviewed were Elnora Gavin, Nickolas Magee and Shaquille Turner.

Advisory committee

Taylor said they took consideration of the advisory committee off Tuesday’s agenda because State Superintendent Michael Rice wanted to have time to look it over. The agreement was initially between the Michigan Department of Treasury and the school district, he said.

He said trustees will vote on the document at their retreat on Saturday if Rice is done looking it over by then.

Plans are for the 11-member committee to start meeting the week of Oct. 20, he said.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Nickolas Magee's name.