BENTON HARBOR — No money is in the budget to hire a company to help the Benton Harbor school board trustees look for a new superintendent.

That’s what trustees found out at Tuesday’s work session.

President Stephen Mitchell said three companies submitted bids for the job – Michigan Association of School Boards, Ray and Associates and Personal Improvement Institute – with bids ranging from $1,500 to $22,000.

Chief Financial Officer Scott Johnson, who started mid-July, said even though there is no money, trustees could move money around to pay for the search. The 2019-20 budget had to be approved by June 30 and was made by the previous CFO.

At a previous meeting, some trustees said they wanted to do a limited search because they feel Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson is doing a great job.

The future of the district has been hanging in a balance since May, when state officials proposed that trustees agree to close Benton Harbor High School in 2020 in exchange for eliminating part of the district’s $18.4 million debt.

Trustees rejected that proposal plus another one that would have closed the high school in 2020 if certain benchmarks weren’t met. 

Hiring a highly qualified superintendent has been one of the state’s requirements while negotiations continue between state officials and the school board trustees.

During Tuesday’s meeting, trustees said Robinson has gotten more work done since she became interim superintendent mid-June than did the previous CEO/superintendent, Bob Herrera, who left to be superintendent at Farmington Public Schools. 

After the meeting, Mitchell said the trustees are going to have the find money for a search unless they decide they don’t want to do a search.

“It’s not one person. It’s the seven of us,” he said. “So they have to give me feedback on what they want to do.”

Even if they did a search, Mitchell said Robinson could apply and be offered the position. But he said if the residents want a search, the school board will do one.

“When you’re dealing with the community, you have to make certain you are transparent and fair,” he said. “You don’t want it to seem as though you’re picking someone and not giving other people the opportunity.”

New hires

During the meeting, Human Resources Director Elizabeth Gayle presented the people she will recommend to be hired at next week’s school board meeting, which will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 13 at Benton Harbor High School.

Board Secretary Patricia Rush said she’s excited that there are 37 people to be hired and only eight people who have resigned or retired.

Gayle said her department has done 50 interviews and held two mini job fairs in the past two weeks.

She said a major job fair will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 16 at the high school, with openings at all grade levels for teachers and support staff.

“Our goal is to have zero vacancies before the beginning of the school year,” she said.

School officials have said for the past few years that one-fourth to one-third of the teachers are long-term substitutes because they can’t find certified teachers to fill the positions.

Bond vs. millage

Also during the meeting, Johnson explained two voter-needed options to pay off the district’s $18.4 million debt – School Finance Stability Bonds and an enhancement millage. Neither could proceed without support from voters. 

In July, trustees sent a proposal to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office that would have the state pay for half the debt and the district ask district voters to approve bonds to pay the other half. Johnson said another option would be an enhancement millage, which can be levied for up to 3 mills and would have to be done through Berrien RESA.

For that millage to pass, half of the school boards in Berrien County would have to agree to it and then at least 50 percent of the county’s voters would have to approve it. 

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege