First let me say that I’m a retired educator, having taught for 34 years. I did my student teaching at Benton Harbor High School and am proud of it. It was one of the greatest educational experiences I had in my teaching career. While student teaching, I always set aside time in my classes for the students to bring in business articles for class discussion. There wasn’t one student who didn’t bring in an article. I found the students to be engaging and respectful of each other’s opinions – and why? – because their parents brought them up right and made sure that they were prepared for the day’s assignments.
BHHS had a great reputation throughout the state. Not only in sports, but also their band, performing arts and academics were all well known. In fact, when interviewing for teaching positions and they saw that I did my student teaching at BHHS, they would inevitably ask me questions about how Benton Harbor did this or that or how they would go about getting things done. Benton Harbor was well known as a great place to teach.
Fast forward to today. So what has changed? The past and present school board members started to run the school district into the ground. Stand up and take a bow! Instead of setting policy and letting the superintendent and administrators carry out those policies, they wanted to run the whole show. They must have gotten ahold of the manual on how to hire and fire BH city managers, saw that was working and started to incorporate that philosophy in hiring superintendents. They had more superintendents in the last few years than some districts have in a lifetime and they keep paying them when they’re fired or put on paid administrative leave.
It got to the point where they were only worried about who had the power and not what was best for the students. As the headline in The HP on June 11, stated, “BH school board back in control.” As board president Stephen Mitchell said, “Having local control back is ‘awesome.’” Well, we saw how the board’s control has worked in the past to the tune of $18 million-plus debt. Stand up and take a bow.
I no longer read the comics as I can get my humor from reading some of the funniest and stupidest comments to come out of the boards’ mouth and other self-appointed speakers. Like when the board president said a couple of weeks ago that the state should build the district a new school. There is not a school district in the state that wouldn’t like the state to build them a new school. Then you have the mayor saying “There’s 22 other municipalities in Southwestern Michigan, and the only high school that’s being closed is BH.” Get your head out of the sand. Those other 22 municipalities are not in debt to the tune of $18 million-plus, not even collectively are they in debt to that amount.
Then the mayor is threatening the Senior PGA event. Again, get your head out of the sand. You don’t have that much power. Also, to demand that Whirlpool get on board with the problems of the Benton Harbor school district. I learned a long time ago that you don’t slap the hand that feeds you. A word to the wise.
Finally, if all else fails, one can always use that world renowned card. You know, the card that trumps everything, and I do mean everything. The race card that has been used in various articles. Where were all the prayers and tears when the district was running up this deficit? This $18 million-plus didn’t just happen overnight. Now that the state has said enough is enough, everyone is trying to build the gate after the horse has gotten out.
Everyone has great ideas and they all say the right words to get the school district back on track. Where was all this talk when the school was having problems? Where were all the concerned parents and community leaders when this was going on, or did the board do a great job of hiding the problems? The state didn’t fail BH students, as the governor stated in The HP on June 12. As everyone knows, politicians will say whatever it takes to appease certain groups in order to get their votes. The only thing the state failed was the taxpayers, by using their money to run a school district that the board ran into the ground.
In closing, I think the past and present school board members should wear a T-shirt that reads, “I helped ruin a great school district.” That way we would know whom to pat on the back for a job well done.
Stand up and take a bow.
Michael Pallas is a resident of Stevensville.