BENTON HARBOR, Mi. – Issues at Benton Harbor Charter School Academy have raised concerns in the community.
A Benton Harbor pastor– Maurice McAffee– called ABC57 earlier this week, alleging that the school had a lack of diversity in staff and administration, arguing that it does not accurately represent a predominantly black community like Benton Harbor.
Bruce Benson, a former school employee, alleged that many of the black employees– himself included– were let go in 2014.
“I never had a write up or anything and I was out the door,” Benson said. “I got fired through an email.”
Benson still enrolled his two children at BHCSA– believing they would be getting the best education possible– but now he feels things are starting to decline, as his children have started to struggle with assignments.
“I’m at the point of home-schooling my kids if I can’t get them into a good school,” he said.
The school is currently short around twelve teachers– meaning some classes have had to increase in size.
Area superintendent Laura Moellering and principal Ashley Smith were not with the school in 2014 when Benson was fired. They said that having a diverse staff is the ideal:
“We really want our staff to reflect our students,” Moellering said. “But as of right now, there’s a pipeline problem.”
Now, even finding qualified staff is a challenge.
“There’s so many jobs out there right now, it’s just hard to find anybody for anything,” said Moellering.
According to data collected by the Kinexus Group, the Berrien County labor market has shrunk to a record low, as thousands of individuals have left the workforce.
Al Pscholka, Vice President of Kinexus, said “The Southwest Michigan area is a little bit older — older than the rest of the country and older than the rest of the state — so we’ve seen a lot of baby boomers leave the job market and we have not had a lot of young families and young people to replace those positions. Part of it is we have a skills gap and part of it is coming out of a pandemic. ”
And fewer and fewer are entering into education, for a variety of reasons, like the low pay and long hours.
“It’s almost like our education needs a complete overhaul to show some respect to teachers,” said Smith. “Our teachers are working harder now than ever.”
While they could not address all of the concerns from parents like Benson, Smith said the teachers at BHCSA are working hard to provide a quality education.
“In the beginning it was really hard, but the teachers we have right now are definitely persevering and we I think we have an environment where people step in,” Smith said. “Our teachers are here for the kids.”