BCESD board votes 3-2 to no longer share superintendent

January 25, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — A divided Bullhead City Elementary School District governing board voted Wednesday evening to hire its own superintendent.

The 3-2 vote means the end of an arrangement with the Colorado River Union High School District that had one leader oversee both districts.

Doug Lutz, Diane Beardsley and Geni Borland supported a motion to hire a superintendent solely for the BCESD, while Melinda Sobraske and Kory Burgess cast the “no” votes.

Burgess and Sobraske cited financial savings and a unity of mission as reasons they wanted to maintain a single superintendent for both districts.

Besides sharing a superintendent and assistant superintendent, the two districts also have shared services agreements in technology, transportation and other areas. Burgess said having a superintendent for each district might mean that employees find themselves being pulled in different directions at times.

“I think the shared services will collapse,” he told his colleagues.

He said that a survey of employees at some schools in each district overwhelmingly favored having one superintendent.

Burgess also said the BCESD stands to see a significant increase in cost to hire a superintendent, at a time when declining enrollment means the district’s state aid will continue to drop.

“Where does that money come from?” Burgess asked rhetorically. “We have to do everything we can to save this district as much as possible.”

Borland said that having its own superintendent means the BCESD governing board can hold that person accountable without needing to coordinate with the CRUHSD board. She also said a dedicated BCESD superintendent could spend more time on the district’s concerns.

Beardsley said having a BCESD superintendent would be the best route, in terms of transparency.

Lutz suggested that the BCESD needs a superintendent answerable only to its governing board.

Supt. Benje Hookstra is retiring at the end of the school year. He became superintendent over both districts last summer after Riley Frei’s resignation. Frei was hired by the CRUHSD in 2010, and became BCESD superintendent in 2013, with Hookstra, the previous leader, serving as assistant superintendent for both districts.

Hookstra, who is now filling both roles and acting as the BCESD’s business manager, makes about $100,000 a year. Sobraske said the BCESD could find itself looking at a $170,000 salary for its own superintendent.

“We don’t have that kind of money to spend,” she said.

Sobraske said that the district may have to choose from unwanted options such as scaling back all-day kindergarten, given its budget constraints.

She said the current arrangement allows different tasks to be assigned to the superintendent and assistant superintendent, and that other board members’ concerns about the division of an administrator’s time could be written into an agreement.

Kerry Burgess, who sits on the CRUHSD board, said that the agreement could be drawn up to require both boards’ approval to retain a superintendent.

Sobraske said the separate superintendents could lead to more duplication of roles, and could put at risk the progress the districts have made in aligning their curricula.

“If we’re going to work for the children — K-12 — we have to work together,” she said. “We can’t work together if we’re going in two different directions.”

CRUHSD board President Lori Crampton said she was disappointed with the BCESD board’s decision.

“We’re both going to be paying these salaries on our own, when those dollars could be going into the classroom,” Crampton said. “We’re all going to be cutting teachers, because we all have our own administrators.”

She said the employees covered by the shared services agreements will now have two bosses.

“We will make it work,” Crampton said. “But it will come at a cost.”

The CRUHSD board will meet Saturday with a consultant to discuss its superintendent search. The meeting is at 1 p.m. at the district office, 1004 Hancock Road, Suite 100. Details of the BCESD superintendent search still are being formulated.

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