Benton Harbor School Board must cut $4 million from deficit-elimination plan

The Benton Harbor School Board is once again facing some tough decisions. They must eliminate an additional $4 million from their deficit-elimination plan in order to receive their first state aid payment of the school year on time.

Under state law, they must revise the deficit-elimination plan every year. But, it’s also a requirement for getting a $4 million emergency state loan they’ve applied for.

When the board passed its revised plan in July, they did so under the assumption that they’d get the $4 million loan. But, the State Board of Education says they can’t count on getting that money. So, the board now must remove that $4 million from its plan.

So, the board held a special meeting Thursday night to figure out how. And, everything’s on the table.

“We're talking about everything from looking at our contracted services, everything from transportation, to custodial, to security,” said Superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood. “We're talking about how do we maximize our classrooms? So we're literally looking at everything this time.”

But, finding where they can possibly trim millions from is tough. The deficit-elimination plan already includes the possibility of drastic cuts to services.

So, the board will have to be creative.

“We're trying not impact our classroom or teaching staff,” Seawood said. “But, as you know, 87 percent of our budget is in people. And, so it may come down to that.”

The board will meet again next week to draft a proposal. They’ll then send it to the state for feedback before submitting a final plan.

But, if the plan isn’t approved by mid-October, the struggling school district’s state aid for October could be delayed. Seawood says they don’t want that to happen, but if it does the district will still make payroll.

“Right now, our cash flow is where we just need to continue to move down this road smoothly,” he said. “We don't need any more hiccups.”

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