Benton Harbor Schools set to reduce deficit in 2015-2016

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Benton Harbor, Mich. Despite this school year's financial emergency and loss of a multi-million dollar grant, next year's outlook for the Benton Harbor Area Schools includes a $2.5 million deficit reduction.

The Benton Harbor School Board voted to approve the 2015-2016 budget at Thursday's meeting, which includes a decrease in expenditures that should put a dent in the district's $15,688,000 deficit.

This budget hopes to cut costs in several ways. Closing Sorter Schools and relocating students will make the biggest impact. The district also projects to save $800,000 in transportation costs through the use of new software for routing efficiency.

"We're going to net positive revenue next year," said third party consultant Thomas Tebeau of T2 Professional Business Services. "We're going to reduce that deficit down to about $13 million, which is a pretty good chunk of change there."

This year's budget put the district an additional $500,000 in the red but Tebeau said the 2015-2016 school year has the potential to regain ground.

"If you look around, they probably have the most balanced budget for this next year than any district in the area," Tebeau said.

Several board members commented about the positive momentum for the future.

"It shows that we'll remain stable, and that's what we're looking for in this district is stability," said Joseph Taylor, Vice President of the Benton Harbor Area School Board.

This school year came with several hurtles.

The district entered into a consent agreement last year after Governor Rick Snyder declared a financial emergency in August.

The system also forfeiting the second two years of a three-year, $18 million grant, citing the need for additional staffing and oversight to administer it.

"They want to make sure they're doing the grant the right way and spending money in the right places not, just to spend money," Taylor said.

Taylor said he was unable to comment on that status of suspended Superintendent Dr. Leonard Seawood. Seawood was put on paid, administrative, non-disciplinary leave in May pending an investigation. Taylor said to expect an announcement about the position sometime in July.