BENTON HARBOR — Get it done – keep your campaign promises.
That’s what some in Benton Harbor are telling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who last Friday proposed closing Benton Harbor High School in 2020 and sending the students to eight local high schools and a newly created charter school. If Benton Harbor school board trustees don’t accept the proposal by June 7, the entire school district could be closed or chartered.
On Monday, school board trustees sent an open letter to Whitmer, asking her to reconsider the proposal. But the Rev. Carlton Lynch of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Benton Township said that’s not enough.
“She can’t just reconsider. Do what you promised you would do,” he said of Whitmer, who visited his church while on the campaign trail in November 2017 during her Urban Agenda Listening Tour.
He pointed to her 12-page proposal to improve Michigan’s schools – “Get It Done: Better Schools Now for Michigan Students.”
In it, she states that over-emphasizing standardized tests and expanding for-profit charter schools, which had been done the previous eight years, has resulted in Michigan falling from leading the world in public education a generation ago to the bottom of the country “on almost every meaningful metric from student literacy to college preparedness.”
“Our educational crisis affects urban, rural and suburban school systems alike, and it disproportionately affects kids who are at-risk or have special needs,” Whitmer said in the document.
Lynch said Whitmer’s proposal calls for improving public education from cradle to career and stabilizing school funding.
“Did you lie to us when you stood at (Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church)?” Lynch said. “I don’t believe that her recommendation has been thought over enough.”
The state’s proposal justifies closing the high school by saying that zero 11th-graders tested as being college-ready for the past five years, along with stating that in 2018, only 3 percent of the district’s third-graders could read at grade level.
Lynch said he doesn’t know if those statistics are true. But even if they are, he said the state can give the students the support they need to be successful at Benton Harbor High School. Plus, those statistics are based mostly on standardized test scores, and Whitmer has promised to find other ways to measure student achievement.
In addition, Whitmer says in her education proposal, which was released before she was elected in 2018, that if she was elected governor, the state would respect educators and treat them as professionals.
But Pam Pugh, vice president of the State Board of Education, said Friday that her board was not consulted about the proposal. And she said the Michigan Department of Education had very little input into the proposal. She said it was put together by the Michigan Department of Treasury and the governor’s office.
Pugh also said the state board members sent a letter to Whitmer the day before the proposal was announced, saying that they opposed the plan, in part because Benton Harbor school board trustees weren’t involved in its development. They asked that no plan for the future of the school district be presented to the Benton Harbor school board trustees until the trustees were able to help develop the plan in a meaningful way.
Benton Harbor school board trustees didn’t learn of the proposal until the morning it was released. State officials met with select community leaders in Benton Harbor the day before the proposal was released. School board members weren’t invited to the meeting.
Information about the state’s plan can be found at Michigan.gov/BentonHarborSchools.
Efforts to reach Whitmer and her staff for comment were unsuccessful.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege