STEVENSVILLE — Lakeshore Public Schools isn’t jumping into the debate over Benton Harbor High School’s proposed closing for next year.
That’s how Superintendent Phil Freeman summed up the district’s stance Monday night, after about a dozen parents – including several from Benton Harbor – asked how the school board might respond to the debate over the future of BHHS, which the state is pushing to close next year.
Until both sides agree on a solution, “it is premature to determine what supports are warranted and the level of involvement Lakeshore might have in the process,” Freeman said, in a brief statement that he read aloud to the audience.
That process, Freeman noted, will involve several entities, including the BHAS Board of Education, plus representatives from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office and the Michigan Departments of Education and Treasury.
“Each of the parties involved will have the opportunity to set the parameters of the level of involvement and support it will be able to provide or accept,” Freeman said.
Whatever happens, “Lakeshore Public Schools stands ready to support the students and community of Benton Harbor, whatever plan is ultimately decided upon,” he added.
Lakeshore offers various support programs that it could call on, depending on what happens in Benton Harbor, Freeman said.
For example, Assistant Superintendent Julie Powell has developed several notable programs, like Reading Matters, “and that’s one of the things that she’s willing to share with any district, in particular, Benton Harbor Area Schools,” he said.
But until Lakeshore knows what kind of solution emerges, it’s not going to jump into the debate, Freeman told the audience.
“Again, the bottom line is this – I think it’s premature for us to do or say anything, prior to Benton Harbor Area Schools and the state coming up with whatever solution they come up with. Once the solution is made, then we will begin to determine what part we can play, and what we can support,” he said.
Whitmer’s office initially gave Benton Harbor board members until last Friday to act on its proposal, citing BHAS’s $18.4 million deficit and lagging academic performance as sufficient reasons to pull the plug on BHHS and send students to neighboring districts.
However, the governor’s office has since given the board another week to come up with an alternative to closing BHHS, which has drawn public protest and major pushback from Benton Harbor board members, officials and parents.
Freeman said afterward that the questions are natural, because Lakeshore is a school of choice, which means that it accepts students from outside the district, including Benton Harbor.
Lakeshore currently has 331 schools of choice students, which account for 12 percent of its enrollment, Freeman said in his own report. He estimated that roughly 4 percent, or 125 students, come from Benton Harbor.