BENTON HARBOR — Michigan’s governor and lieutenant governor traveled to Benton Harbor Tuesday afternoon to meet with some of the Benton Harbor school board trustees, although neither side would say what happened at the meeting.
Shortly afterward this joint statement was released by Whitmer administration Press Secretary Tiffany Brown and board President Stephen Mitchell: “Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist and Benton Harbor Area School Board leadership met to discuss next steps regarding the district. The lines of communication are open among all parties and we look forward to future discussions to identify a solution that puts Benton Harbor students first.”
Whitmer and Gilchrist also met with other local leaders, including Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, who posted on his political Facebook page: “I had a very meaningful and successful meeting with Lieutenant Governor Garland (sic) Gilcrest today.” For weeks Muhammad has been very critical of the state’s handling of the matter.
The visit to Benton Harbor, which had not been announced ahead of time, follows what has been a roller coaster of events since the state Department of Treasury released a proposal on May 24 to suspend operations at Benton Harbor High School in 2020. The state sold it as way for the district to focus on improving student achievement in K-8 grades and reduce its $18.4 million debt.
Since then, several town hall meetings have been held, including one with Whitmer. Residents have remained steadfast that they don’t want the high school to close under any circumstances.
Board trustees rejected not only the original proposal, but also a second one that would have closed the high school in a year if certain academic and financial benchmarks weren’t met. They’ve done this in the face of threats by the state to close the entire Benton Harbor district if trustees don’t come to terms.
Board Secretary Patricia Rush said Tuesday she couldn’t talk about the meeting with the governor. Rush did say that trustees are holding a board retreat at 9 a.m. Saturday at the district’s administrative offices, 1995 Union Ave., Benton Township. She said this will be an open meeting. The topic has not been disclosed.
“We are chugging along, getting stuff done for the school year,” she said.
In addition, she said the district is partnering with the Southwest Michigan Ministerial Alliance on the two following events:
• 6 p.m. July 18 – Parent Forum at Benton Harbor High School, where school leadership will present parents and students with updates about each school, and parents will be able to register their children for school. Snacks will be provided.
• 4-8 p.m. Aug. 5 – Outdoor Student Fair at Hall Park in Benton Harbor, where there will be on-site student registration, information packets for parents and refreshments, including snacks, water, juice boxes and hot dogs.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege