The Michigan Senate has given the green light to a plan to increase state control over the Benton Harbor school district. The Republican-sponsored bill passed along party lines.
Republican proponents of the bill argued that the district's high dropout rates and poor test scores justified state action.
"We've been sending $5 million more to that school district than any other school district the same size and test scores haven't improved," said Sen. Leon Still (R-Spring Lake).
Benton Harbor, which has been under federal court supervision since 1967, had a graduation rate of 55 percent during the 1997-98 school year, compared to a statewide average rate of 83 percent.
The bill would create a three-member panel that would choose a chief executive officer for the district. The panel would consist of the governor, the state schools superintendent or his designee, and the Berrien County Schools intermediate school district superintendent.
The panel would then appoint three additional board members to the Benton Harbor district-increasing the board from seven to 10 members-but they would serve in an advisory role only. The powers of the current elected school board would be suspended and transferred to the CEO.
After five years, voters would decide whether to keep this system or return control to the elected school board.
Consideration of the bill comes one year after the state asserted control over Detroit schools, a move that remains controversial.
Democrats criticized the legislation for hindering local control of the district.
"It's time to stop micromanaging what goes on in our communities," Rep. Martha Scott (D-Highland Park) told The Detroit News.