BENTON HARBOR — It looks like Benton Harbor school board trustees are going to have to find another superintendent to lead the school district as they try to save Benton Harbor High School from being closed by the state.
Farmington school board trustees voted Wednesday to enter into contract negotiations with Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent/CEO Bob Herrera as that district’s next superintendent. A final decision is expected to be made June 4.
When Herrera took over leading Benton Harbor Area Schools last July, it was supposed to be for four years. In addition to hiring him, Benton Harbor school board trustees approved a five-year cooperative agreement that gave Herrera all power except in taxation and the borrowing of money, with the trustees stepping into an advisory role.
In an early-December interview, Herrera said the state was giving the school district the gift of time so he could implement sustainable reform in the district, which was struggling academically and financially.
Herrera said school leaders who are required to reform a district in two years or less tend to address symptoms and use “gaming strategies” to make test scores and other data look better. He said true reform takes time.
“Benton Harbor doesn’t need one more quick fix,” he said at the time.
But the gift of time wasn’t meant to be. Later in December, state legislators passed a plethora of bills during their lame duck session. Word didn’t start trickling out until February that buried in one of the laws was the repeal, taking effect this June 30, of the section of law the cooperative agreement was made under. The Benton Harbor school district is the only district affected.
The school board trustees are expected to regain local control on July 1.
Last summer, Benton Harbor school board trustees issued a statement after voting to hire Herrera, saying it was a “transitional milestone for Benton Harbor Area Schools that has been years in the making” and was “without question the right thing for the children today, tomorrow and in the future.”
The school board’s president at the time, Marletta Seats, said in a prepared statement that the problems facing the school district were a “perfect storm of economic, social and financial changes.”
“Tonight, I am proud of what we have done and what we have set in motion,” Seats said then.
But three of the trustees, including Seats, later said they were forced to accept the cooperative agreement – and by extension Herrera – by state officials, during closed sessions.
“We had three (other) choices – shut down, shut down, shut down,” Seats said in December, adding that agreements made under duress should be vacated.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege