Pastors: Build it up, don't tear it down

Pastor R. Chester Gulley of New Covenant Community Baptist Church in Benton Harbor speaks Friday at a press conference regarding the support of Benton Harbor pastors for Benton Harbor High School, which may be closed down by the state.

BENTON HARBOR — Several local pastors met Friday to say they stand in solidarity with the Benton Harbor school board to keep Benton Harbor High School from closing.

“We’re against the dissolving of our school district or suspending of our school district,” said Pastor R. Chester Gulley, president of the Southwest Michigan Ministerial Alliance. 

He said they are also not in favor of busing Benton Harbor students out of the district. Instead, he said they would like to see the district rebuilt.

“Our suggestion is to be constructive and not destructive,” he said.

More than 30 pastors met earlier in the day with at least one state official to discuss what can be done to keep the high school open.

The meeting was in response to the state’s proposal, released May 24, to close the high school in 2020 and disperse the students to eight surrounding high schools and a newly created charter school. The proposal was from the Michigan Department of Treasury and the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Trustees have until June 7 to accept the proposal or the entire school district could be closed or chartered.

In exchange for accepting the proposal, state officials have offered to forgive most of the district’s $16 million debt.

Benton Harbor school board trustees were not notified of the proposal until the morning it was released. They sent an open letter to Whitmer on May 27, asking her to reconsider the proposal. School board trustees are holding a special community meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the high school to further discuss the proposal.

After the news conference, Gulley said the pastors have a comprehensive plan they will enact if the state doesn’t do the right thing. He declined to say what that plan is.

“I want to work with those in the community to find alternatives,” he said.

Also at the news conference were Berrien County Commissioners Don Meeks and Ezra Scott.

Scott said that even though his district doesn’t include Benton Harbor, he was there to support the school district and Meeks.

Meeks, a 1968 BHHS graduate, said he has grandchildren in the school system and doesn’t want to see it close. If the school stays open, he said more residents need to get involved to help the students.

“It is our problem,” he said. “It takes a village. I’m just hoping the governor will hear us.”

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