'The problem was not created by anyone in this room,' Governor Whitmer Visits Benton Harbor

Jun 5, 2019

 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer addresses the crowd at Brotherhood of All Nations Church Of God in Christ in Benton Harbor on Wednesday, June 5, 2019.
Credit Jennifer Weingart / WVPE Public Radio

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer listened for more than two hours Wednesday night as Benton Harbor community members implored her not to close their high school.

 

The state has given the school board another week to come up with an alternative plan to resolve the district’s $16 million of debt and to improve student outcomes.

“We put a lot of work into this plan and we think that this is a way to preserve the district and give kids the education they need," Whitmer said. "So if there’s another viable alternative I will take a look at it, for sure.”

Under the plan the state has put forward, the high school would close. Those students would be sent to surrounding high schools, where some at the meeting say they are unwanted.

Benton Harbor community members say the state isn’t willing to work with them. Jasmnika Newbern is a 2014 graduate and current long-term sub at Benton Harbor. She spoke to the governor in the meeting. “Yes, we do have these issues and yes, we do need to find a solution but like she said, before we can move forward we have to move backward and we need to start telling the truth to the community and the public about what has happened.”

Others said losing the high school is just the first step to losing the whole district, though Whitmer says closing the high school is meant to save the district as a whole. They say that the state is trying to give Benton Harbor student’s money to other districts, and that the student outcome data the state is using isn’t accurate.

 

Particularly data that says no 11th grader in the last five years has been college-ready. Several graduates that have graduated from or are in college spoke on Tuesday and Wednesday to say that was false.

Whitmer says the plan is to reopen the high school once the debt has been paid and the outcomes look better for K-8 students. The board has until the 14th to come up with a plan, or accept the state’s.