BENTON HARBOR — Plans are in the works to come up with a viable way to keep Benton Harbor High School open past 2020.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave school board trustees until Friday to come up with a plan or to accept the state’s plan, which calls for operations at the high school to be suspended in 2020, with high school students dispersed to eight area high schools and a newly created charter school. That would leave the school district to be able to focus on grades K-8.
If nothing is done, the school district could be closed or chartered by state Legislators.
But some residents in the BHAS district have been loudly protesting the possible closing of the high school, saying it is the first step towards closing the entire school district.
School board trustees called a special meeting at 6 p.m. today at the Central Administration Building, 1995 Union St. The agenda has nothing on it, but one trustee said things “are continuing to evolve rapidly.”
Meanwhile, an Action Plan Committee to Save Benton Harbor School System, led by Benton Harbor City Commissioner Ron Singleton, has put out a plan asking Whitmer to appoint the University of Michigan School of Education to administrate the school district, with the elected school board trustees acting as advisors.
That plan also calls for an independent review team to audit the school system’s finances for the past several years and for another independent group to set standards for school board trustees and penalties if they don’t meet those standards.
In addition, the plan calls for class sizes to be no larger than 20 and for a variety of tutoring services being made available to the students throughout the school year and during the summer, including mandatory SAT/ACT prep course for grades 9-12.
Also on that committee are co-chair Emma Kinnard, BHHS teacher Marilyn Ross-Golden, Ed Pinkney, Cleveton Jack, Sam Hudson, Ruthie Haralson and Dr. Don J. Tynes.
In separate action, Elizabeth McCree, a well-known Benton Harbor attorney, spoke about several of her ideas Friday during her monthly radio show.
Her main idea is to suspend Michigan School of Choice law in Berrien County.
McCree said that almost 3,000 students who live in Benton Harbor Area Schools don’t attend the district school.
“If you cannot send your child to another district through schools of choice and those children are enrolled in Benton Harbor Area Schools and that money goes back into Benton Harbor Area Schools, a lot of the programs that already existed can be restarted,” she said.
She said that 20 years ago, BHAS had the best advanced placement and career and technical education in the area. She said she knows that suspending the school of choice law would be unpopular, but something has to be done in times of emergency.
She said it angers her that people are blaming school board trustees for the financial and academic problems the district is having because the district has been under some sort of federal or state control for decades starting in 1967, when Ruth Berry filed a lawsuit on behalf of her six children, saying that schools in Benton Harbor Area Schools were segregated.
McCree said the plans were implemented in 1980.
“It did not end until the year after I graduated from high school, which was in 2002,” she said. “... And it closed unsuccessfully. That decision says, essentially, the housing patterns and all the other things that became issues across the country for school desegregation were present here in our area. And because those things have not changed, there was nothing else they could do in regards to what they thought was racial equity within the school system. So it closed unsuccessfully in 2002.”
She said BHAS could learn from what happened to other school districts, such as Muskegon Heights, which was fully chartered years ago and yet is still on the list to possibly be closed.
“We’re working for the souls of these children,” she said.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege