UPDATE: Benton Harbor Schools to cut $2.5 million, but won't release full proposal

By: Brandon Lewis Email
By: Brandon Lewis Email

The Benton Harbor School Board met Thursday evening to review a proposed $2.5 million budget reduction by superintendent Leonard Seawood.

Seawood refused to share the public documents with any news outlets at the meeting. The documents list where the reductions would come from and few details were shared during the meeting.

"We want to be transparent, give everybody an opportunity to voice their opinions, their concerns etcetera, so this is an opportunity for us to do that because we're totally transparent," said Seawood shortly before refusing to share the documents.

He explained his reason for not releasing the public information was he didn't want the public to misinterpret his proposal as a plan already in place, although the board has not voted on the plan, nor have there been any public hearings.

During the board meeting it was revealed 40 people in the district could be laid off, including five teachers.

Seawood is also proposing to completely outsource custodial work.

The board also read a proposal to cut the transportation fund for the school band.

Calvin Britain Elementary and Seelye-McCord Elementary could also be combined under one roof at the old Martin Luther King, Jr. school and Hull Middle School could be closed starting in January 2011.

"If we do this we would want to do it in January while kids go home for Christmas break and we can make sure we've had the necessary conversations with parents and with students," said Seawood, who added the reason for the mid-year closings is to maximize savings.

Initially, the administration was considering making the change in November, but decided to wait until January.

Cuts are needed in the district. According to the Michigan Department of Education, Benton Harbor posted an $11,614,479 deficit in the 2008-2009 school year, the latest time period deficit data was available. It marked the third consecutive deficit for the district.

In the 2006-2007 school year the district had a deficit of $2,953,608. The following year it posted a $7,016,128.

Seawood said under the proposed Deficit Elimination Plan he is not sure when the district would stop posting deficits.

He acknowledged the district has not been in compliance in many of its previous Deficit Elimination Plans, which could make the district a risk for state takeover.

One of the fiirst steps leading to a takeover under Michigan Public Act 72 of 1990 is a financial review by the State Treasurer. Seawood is scheduled to meet with the treasurer next week, but said he is the one who scheduled the meeting to be proactive.

Another step is the appointment of a review board, which has not taken place.

A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20th at 6 p.m. It was not announced if the board expects to make a decision following the hearing, or wait until its November board meeting.

NewsCenter 16 filed a request for the documents containing the proposed cuts on Friday, Oct. 15th. The request was approved and the documents were sent on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

To download the proposed cuts in advance of Wednesday's public hearing, click the link above this story.

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