As Jefferson County School Board members weigh the renewal of Dr.Sheldon Berman’s contract as superintendent, they’ll be considering a lot of elements ranging from dry policy to what insiders tell us is Berman’s prickly management style.
Berman had the bad luck of coming in as JCPS’ top executive on the heels of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision under conservative activist Chief Justice John Roberts that Jefferson County can’t consider race in school assignments.
As school officials scrambled to comply, Berman has a mixed record of leadership.
The reason to keep him: Berman told School Board members that he’s determined to maintain diversity in Jefferson County Public Schools.
Stephen Imhoff, District Two school board representative, told Insider Louisville in a September interview that after the Roberts Court threw out Louisville’s desegregation plan, board members then went to Berman as a group and told him they wanted to keep the system diverse.
“And he 100 percent agreed,” Imhoff said. “We told him when we hired him, ‘We want to maintain diversity.’ If he didn’t give us his word, we wouldn’t have hired him.
“We told him what we wanted, and he did it.”
In the headlines:
- In 2009, Berman was criticized for an apparent conflict of interest after he pushed JCPS into using non-profit companies where he was a board member including VHS, Inc., a Massachusetts virtual technology company.
- Also in 2009, Berman was criticized for extensive, expensive travel to destinations such as South Africa that seemed only vaguely relevant to education in Jefferson County.
- An unpublicized teacher survey – published in the September 15 Jefferson County Teachers Association newsletter – indicated teachers are not supportive. A sampling of about 10 percent of membership indicated 62 percent of JCTA teachers opposed renewing Berman’s contract, 23 percent supported retaining him and 15 percent had no position.
- In 2009, a similar survey of 1,000 teachers found 57 percent of teachers were dissatisfied with Berman, with 32 percent supporting him.
Berman presides over the Jefferson County Public School system, one of the largest in the United States. JCPS has a $1 billion budget, 13,000 employees including 7,000 teachers, 98,000 students and about 155 schools.