August 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Benton Harbor school district crisis could lead to EM appointment

Benton Harbor— A review team has found a financial crisis in the Benton Harbor school district, which could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager for a community that has a history of struggles.

A report released Friday now goes to Gov. Rick Snyder, who has 10 days to take some action. The school district could get an emergency manager with broad authority to make changes, but there are other options.

Under Michigan law, the district could choose to enter into a consent agreement with the state or even bankruptcy. Nothing will happen, however, unless Snyder is convinced there’s a financial emergency and declares one.

“No single precipitating event brought the school district to the financial crossroads at which it now stands,” the review team said. “The school district has struggled with declining student enrollments, deficit spending and related issues for some number of years.”

The district had bills of $3.6 million at the end of June, including $1.3 million in bills that remained unpaid after more than seven months. The district believes it won’t eliminate budget deficits until 2028.

The schools are located in Berrien County in the southwestern corner of Michigan. Enrollment has fallen 43 percent to 2,680 in the past decade.

The district’s operating income is directly tied to the number of students.