BH schools seeking new superintendent, trustee

BENTON HARBOR — The Sept. 17 death of Benton Harbor school board President Stephen Mitchell was on the minds of trustees Tuesday as they held their first meeting without him.

With his death, the district is without a board president and a superintendent. In the meantime, board Vice President Joseph Taylor and Interim Superintendent Patricia Robinson are in charge. 

At Tuesday’s work session, trustees voted to extend the timeline for choosing a new superintendent to Dec. 16. The superintendent search firm had planned to meet with community members on Sept. 18 to find out what they want to see in a new superintendent. That meeting was moved to next Monday, due to Mitchell’s death.

The state has agreed to pay the $22,000 cost of the search firm to help the financially strapped district, which has $18.4 million in debt.

Taylor said the board will need to decide next week how much money to offer a new superintendent. The district paid its last superintendent $180,000 a year, which he said placed the district 45th in the state for how much it pays. With benefits, he said the pay was well over $200,000 a year. There are almost 600 public school districts in the state.

Trustee Matthew Bradley said that after some research, he believes the district should offer a base salary of between $100,000 and $120,000. Taylor said they are going to have to go a little higher than that because the assistant superintendent makes $120,000.

No mention was made Monday of when the board might choose a new president. 

The board also needs a new trustee to fill the vacant seat.

Any district resident interested has through Oct. 11 to apply by mailing or dropping off a letter of interest to BHAS Central Administration, Attn: Susan West, 870 Colfax, Benton Harbor, MI 49022. Or, the letter can be emailed to Susan.west@BHAS.org.

The letter should include the applicant’s name, address, phone number, reason they are interested in the position and a short biography of themselves.

During the meeting, Taylor said the board has 30 days to fill Mitchell’s seat. He said he expects the board to hold a special meeting the week of Oct. 14 to interview applicants and choose a new trustee.

Berrien RESA is charged with filling the vacant seat if Benton Harbor trustees don’t do it within 30 days.

In addition, Taylor said the state is drafting a joint resolution regarding the composition of the advisory committee that will be charged with writing a sustainable operating plan for the district. Trustees previously approved the idea of creating the advisory committee by their next regular meeting on Oct. 8, with a written report to be submitted to school board and state officials no later than March 31.

The advisory committee is the latest proposal from the state to help the school district, which has been struggling for years with high debt, low student achievement on standardized tests and a sagging enrollment.

State officials first proposed on May 24 closing the high school at the end of the 2019-20 school year, setting off a sometimes contentious back and forth between both parties. 

Taylor said he expects the joint resolution to be ready by next week’s meeting.

“What we need most is unity not only among the board, but among our citizens, our students, because we have a mission that’s coming up that we must win,” he said. “We’ve been given chance after chance and we cannot let this go by the wayside.”

Robinson said next week’s regular board meeting will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Benton Harbor High School library rather than the cafeteria.

She said the change in venue is being made so the district can apply for grants to turn the cafeteria into a cafe. 

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