Benton Harbor Schools preparing to cut top administrators to reduce spending

By: Kevin Lewis Email
By: Kevin Lewis Email

The cuts continue to be felt throughout Benton Harbor Schools.

Last month, more than 20 administrators received letters stating their jobs were on the line. School leaders say most won't be let go, but some likely will. That was reason enough for Sheletha Bobo, Assistant Superintendent of Business/Finance, to hire attorney Tom Fette of St. Joseph.

Bobo is a 17-year employee with a contract up for renewal on June 30. Fette says the district would need a solid reason to dismiss Bobo. However, with a clean personnel file and a lack of district performance reviews, a just cause may be hard to come by.

"I don't feel this is the way to go about it. If they had a problem with me, they were supposed to talk to me,” Bobo said following Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

Every letter said contract renewals were not recommended. Superintendent Leonard Seawood cited the district's extreme financial state in addition to schools with low achieving test scores.

"Because my letter contained more than the others, I felt I was being singled out,” Bobo added.

Unlike the other 21 administrators, Bobo's letter had a personalized paragraph citing her lack of accounting control, cash reconciliation and untimely budgets.

"I understand we're in a deficit, but I didn't have a lot of control over a lot of things that caused the deficit, such as the enrollment decline,” Bobo commented.

16 million dollars in debt, Superintendent Seawood says these letters are nothing personal, they merely come down to cost cutting.

"It is absolutely painful. We're just trying to give ourselves the maximum flexibility to do what we have to do in terms of right-sizing this district,” Seawood told NewsCenter 16.

Following the school board meeting, Bobo and Fette argued that a lack of money was not just means for termination.

"If you look at Sheletha’s contract and if you look at the state law, there is absolutely no reason to let her go from her position,” Fette told the school board.

With no final decision, the board must now decide if slashing jobs could risk a lawsuit.

So far Bobo is the only administrator to fight her letter. Of course no one else received one with a personalized tone.

Depending on the magnitude of state cuts, Benton Harbor could see 1.6 million dollars in less funding next year. That is in addition to the district’s current deficit of more than 16 million.

Thanks to a deficit reduction plan, Seawood says Benton Harbor Area Schools’ entire debt should be paid off in less than five years.

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