LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Increasing teacher compensation, boosting student proficiency, and other academic and financial benchmarks are part of a proposal to keep Benton Harbor's high schools open, according to an overview of a tentative deal to save the schools.

Members of the Benton Harbor Area Schools board will meet Tuesday night to discuss the agreement, which still needs approval from the panel, that came out of a meeting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office held June 26 with school officials and members of the state education and treasury departments.

Whitmer’s administration had proposed closing the high schools to avoid complete dissolution of the predominately African American district, arguing a smaller K-8 system would make it easier for officials to pay off debt. 

After the Benton Harbor school board formally rejected Whitmer's plan, the school board pitched its own financial and academic plans to the governor.

An overview posted on the Michigan Department of Treasury website sheds more light on the pact and the work to implement it.

The school board is expected to launch a “comprehensive strategic plan” in the 2019-20 academic year, according to the document.

The district also is required to develop an enhanced deficit elimination plan. As part of that, the state treasurer will enter into a financial recovery agreement, officials said in the overview.

The board, which regained full authority on Monday, is still reviewing the final version, but benchmarks the district would need to achieve to avoid closures include:

•Increasing the number of certified teachers hired, lowering the number of long-term substitutes

•Raising teacher compensation

•Securing attainable increases in student growth and proficiency measured by assessments such as M-STEP and SAT

•Significantly lower the percentage of chronically absent students

•Adopting a balanced budget

•Ensuring board members participate in leadership training sessions

If the benchmarks are met, the district will remain intact and “all parties will come back together and set a new set of goals and continue to comply” with its enhanced deficit elimination plan, state officials said.

But if the district doesn’t meet those guidelines in the first year, “the board agrees to suspend operations of the high school,” state officials wrote in the overview. “The district would partner with surrounding districts to students in grades 9-12. The board would revise its strategic plan to solely focus on improving outcomes for students in K-8 and stabilize the finances of the district.”

A final agreement is expected to be signed this month.

On Wednesday, when the agreement was reached to avoid the closures, the state had identified national experts "who have experience turning around school districts that are struggling and we would like to engage in a day of learning alongside the board and community partners," said Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown.

The school board, teachers, staff and philanthropists are expected to meet later this month to hear from the national nonprofits credited with turnarounds, officials said.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/07/01/benton-harbor-high-schools-deal-whitmer-governor/1625308001/