BERRIEN SPRINGS — The Berrien Regional Education Service Agency is hiring an extra person to keep up with early college enrollments.

Board members unanimously hired Becky Foster on Monday as a part-time CTE (Career Technical Education) Mentor, for 20 hours per week, Superintendent Kevin Ivers said.

Foster previously served as LMC’s student life activities director. She holds a master’s degree from Michigan State University.

Students stay in high school for five years, and go to LMC in the fifth year, where they earn their diploma and associate’s degree at the same time, Ivers said.

“We already have one person who works in that capacity,” Ivers said. “The CTE Mentor advises them what classes to schedule at LMC. She’ll have a caseload of students, and make sure they’re signed up for the right classes, to fulfill those requirements. It’s extra help for what we already have here.”

Foster, of St. Joseph, will earn $25 an hour to advise students enrolled in the Early/Middle College program, at Lake Michigan College, of which the district is a partner, Ivers said.

“We’ve just finished our third cohort of students. We knew this (Foster’s hiring) was going to happen, as the number of students increased, so we were prepared,” Ivers said. “We share this (position’s) cost with our local districts, so they make up some of the cost, and we make up some of the cost.”

Other major hires approved Monday include Nathan Wonderly, as a new district systems administrator, who also becomes the second employee in that category, Ivers said.

Wonderly, of Burr Oak, will earn $57,222 annually, and split his time between the River Valley and Watervliet school districts, according to Ivers. Wonderly previously worked for Coldwater’s Board of Public Utilities, and holds a bachelor of science degree from Trine University.

The job attracted 13 applicants, with the district interviewing six finalists, Ivers said. “These are the people that take care of technology, the routers, the network servers, and those things, behind the scenes,” he said.

The board also hired Kristin Bivens of St. Joseph, as a graphic designer and communications secretary, and eight paraprofessionals to fill spots in the autism program, and Blossomland Learning Center. The district received 25 applications, and interviewed 18 finalists.

Gentry Phillips, of Benton Harbor, and Rachelle Legatt, of Niles, will work in a new autism classroom the district is starting in Niles, to keep up with a growing population of students who need those services, Ivers said.

Blossomland’s new replacement paraprofessionals include Claudia Bevans, Heather Kirby, Alisha Reed, and Jim Welch, while Kayla Nunez and Amy Atkins will work in the autism program, Ivers said.

The large number of payroll additions reflects a push to fill whatever jobs are open before a new school begins, Ivers said.

Even so, “we have three positions that are still open – an Early On (program) coordinator, a teacher consultant, and a programmer analyst,” Ivers said. “We’ve interviewed some (applicants), but we’re waiting to hear back on reference checks, and things like that.”

Depending how quickly that work finishes, Ivers expects the board to act next month on those vacancies.

In other business, Ivers and the board briefly toured the Blossomland Learning Center, to see how the latest construction is proceeding.

“Construction is in full swing in C and D pods, and the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms. The plan is to have most classrooms reopened in time for the beginning of school. Some will linger on until middle or end of October,” Ivers said.

Most of the construction is interior-focused, such as cabinetry and flooring work – plus brick work, and a roof replacement that should be completed in September, he said.

“This is a big part of the project right now, but it’ll look really nice when it’s done,” he said.

The total estimated cost of this second construction phase is about $4 million, which the district is funding out of special education millage dollars, and money it set aside, he added.

The board also raised free and reduced lunches from $1.75 to $1.80 for breakfast, and $2.75 to $2.80 for lunch.

“Once again, we’re just trying to break even. We’re not trying to make money with our food service,” Ivers said. “We didn’t have an increase last year, so we were due.”

The board also chose officers during the annual organizational meeting, which preceded Monday’s regular meeting.

Cathy J. Bair was unanimously chosen as president, and Linda Holt was elected as vice president, Michael Lindley as treasurer, with J. Allene Smith remaining as secretary, and Jon Martin as a trustee.

Bair replaces Sharon Kalling, who retired in June after serving 42 years on the board. Her term expires in 2021, while Holt and Smith will serve through 2023, and Lindley and Martin, until 2025.

Bair, Holt, and Smith have served for 34, 26 and 12 years, respectively. Lindley is the newest member, with Jon Martin, who will also serve on the Personnel/Policy Committee, and as a representative to the Berrien-Cass School Board Association, Ivers said.

Lindley also continues to serve on the LMC Board, while Martin is a former Niles school board member, Ivers said.