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The president of the Benton Harbor Area School Board, which has been dealing with a financial and academic crisis, died Tuesday, the district said in an email.

"The Benton Harbor Area School Board regrets to inform you that Board President Steve Mitchell died today," board vice president Joseph Taylor said in the message late Tuesday afternoon. "The Board, the District, and the community are forever grateful for President's Mitchell's leadership and his many years of service with Benton Harbor Area Schools.

"We are heartbroken and our prayers are the Mitchell family."

Additional information was not immediately available.

Benton Harbor school officials and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer began talks in May to find a way to operate the district and address its significant academic and financial challenges, including $18 million in debt.

Whitmer initially pushed to close the district's two high schools in 2020 in lieu of districtwide closure. But last month, state school superintendent Michael Rice said Benton Harbor's high schools — a main high school and a small alternative school — should not be shut down

The urban school district, whose 1,800 students are 92% black and 81% economically disadvantaged, has staggeringly low academic achievement and has been ravaged by years of declining enrollment.

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