BERRIEN SPRINGS — Plans to possibly hire a new superintendent for Berrien RESA this morning have some area school superintendents questioning why there’s a rush since the current superintendent isn’t retiring for more than a year.
Superintendent Kevin Ivers announced in May that he is retiring effective June 30, 2020.
St. Joseph Public Schools Superintendent Ann Cardon said in an email that she is “tremendously disappointed that the Berrien RESA Board of Education would move forward in hiring the next superintendent lacking a solid (search) process and exhibiting no transparency.”
Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent/CEO Bob Herrera said the timing of the vote for the new superintendent is “interesting” and “radical” since two members of the five-member board are being replaced July 1.
“It appears they decided to push this so that the current board could make the decision and not next year’s board,” he said. “It may not be illegal, but it’s certainly poor ethics.”
Bridgman Public Schools Superintendent Shane Peters said many superintendents and school board members throughout Berrien County are concerned about a Berrien RESA superintendent possibly being named today without there being an open search.
He said Berrien RESA needs a strong leader, in part, because of what is happening in Benton Harbor Area Schools, where the state wants Benton Harbor school board trustees to agree to close Benton Harbor High School by Friday or the entire district could be dissolved. In addition, the state’s plan calls for Berrien RESA to oversee dispersing the Benton Harbor high school students to eight surrounding school districts and a newly created charter school.
Peters said the only way to make sure the best leader is in place is by doing a thorough search.
Berrien RESA (Regional Education Service Agency) is meeting at 10 a.m. today for a budget hearing, followed by its 10:30 a.m. regular meeting, in conference room D, 711 St Joseph Ave, Berrien Springs.
On today’s agenda is the acceptance of the resignation of Ivers, followed by an interview and possible hiring for the superintendent position of Eric Hoppstock, the agency’s assistant superintendent and chief academic officer.
RESAs and ISDs (Intermediate School Districts) help local school districts provide programs and services, especially special education services.
When contacted by phone Sunday, Berrien RESA Board President Sharon Kalling said they did have an open process, which they have followed several times since she was first put on the board in 1977.
She said they held a special meeting on May 30 to discuss how they were going to search for a new superintendent. During her 42 years on the board, she said this is only the fifth time they have had to hire a new superintendent. She said they held a national search only once, and that resulted in Ivers being hired in 2010.
The rest of the time, she said they hired from within. She said considering to hire Hoppstock makes sense because he’s been with Berrien RESA for 32 years.
“I think it’s extremely logical,” she said. “If there are any concerns (with Hoppstock), we’ll do something different. Nothing is done until it’s done.”
She said putting the internal candidate through a national search is very emotionally and physically draining.
“We’re going to start with Eric because he’s been with us for 32 years,” she said. “... It just makes sense. It makes more sense to me than playing a game and doing it the other way.”
But Cardon, who is leaving to become superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools Aug. 1, said area school districts weren’t informed about the process to hire a superintendent.
Herrera said his concerns started at the June 3 Biennial Election of Berrien RESA, where representatives from Berrien County school boards overwhelmingly approved challengers Michael Lindley of Grand Beach and Jon R. Martin of Niles to six-year terms on the board. They unseated Kalling and member Martha Momany, who has been on the board a little over a year.
Herrera said he was the appointed voting member from Benton Harbor Area Schools.
“They canceled Benton Harbor’s vote because they said I didn’t have a resolution in my hand, which I found odd,” said Herrera, who is leaving to become the superintendent of Farmington Public Schools on July 1. “I’ve never run into that before.”
He said that as the district’s superintendent/CEO, he has the power to make the decision because the Benton Harbor school board members can only vote on issues about taxation and the borrowing of money.
Herrera said he asked for their guidance anyway, and they approved having him vote for the challengers.
“It appeared they (Berrien RESA officials) were trying to create processes to keep the incumbents in place,” he said. “That was a red flag to me.”
He said he would like to know the reasoning behind not holding a national search.
“What is their rationale?” he said. “Maybe I could support it if I knew it.”
The superintendents reached by The Herald-Palladium said they have a problem with the process, not with Hoppstock.
“We just want the best person for the job to take the county to the next level, and that could be Eric,” Peters said.
When contacted by phone, Cardon said she would support Hoppstock as superintendent if a search was done and he rose to the top.
Herrera said that if Ivers was retiring in January and Hoppstock was being brought on as an interim superintendent, that would make sense.
“But not a whole year in advance,” he said.
Kalling said a new superintendent was named a year in advance once before. She said that makes the transition smoother.
Several local superintendents and school board trustees are expected to be at this morning’s meeting to voice their concerns.
Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege