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Superintendent: Benton Harbor Area Schools bearing down on a crisis

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Benton Harbor Area Schools is bearing down on a financial and academic crisis that might significantly impact its ability to provide quality educational services to its students, according to CEO/Superintendent Dr. Robert Herrera. During his public CEO/Superintendent meeting held Tuesday, Dr. Herrera provided a State of the District review since he took the reins in July 2018.

Herrera said in the past seven months, the top priorities of his administrative team have been to get a handle on the district’s academic and financial issues and immediately put in place measures for improvements.  In the process, school leaders discovered that the district’s debt balloon would strike harder and faster than previously understood. The district’s short-term and long-term outstanding debt is more than $19 million. Based on current trends in declining enrollment and debt repayment the district may not be able to borrow additional funds after 2020.

“Based on our true financial picture, the district’s financial strains will make it extremely difficult to provide quality educational services to our students over the next three years,” said Dr. Herrera. He said these financial strains have already impacted the quality of the education that BHAS has been able to provide over the past several years. A reduction in full-time permanent teachers, substandard academic resources and an overall poor learning environment have contributed to a declining graduation rate and BHAS students’ low proficiency in the state’s academic standards. They are currently ranked in the bottom 5 percent in Michigan.

 

Included in his report were seven options for moving the district forward.

Option 1: Restructure Debt

Option 2: The State Government appropriating $21.5 million from its budget

Option 3: Dissolve the district and redistribute students to surrounding districts

Option 4: Enter into a cooperative agreement with another school district

Option 5: Contract with Berrien Regional Education Service Agency (RESA)

Option 6: Create a teacher training school with a university

Option 7: Create a public school academy (charter)