Leaders in Billings School District 2 face a murky future following a vote Tuesday night not to extend Superintendent Keith Beeman’s contract.
Beeman’s current contract expires at the end of June 2012, and trustees are uncertain whether it will be renewed.
The board voted 5-4 Tuesday to not extend his contract through June 2014. The contract would have provided Beeman a 2.8 percent raise, lifting his annual salary to $164,557.
The contract also would have given Beeman the authority to leave the district with 45 days notice and be paid for his service up to that point. Had the district terminated the contract, Beeman would have received 50 percent of his salary and 100 percent of his benefits for the duration of the contract.
Tuesday night’s vote to leave Beeman’s current contract in place leaves SD2’s top administrator in a type of limbo.
Beeman declined to comment Wednesday, saying only that questions of the district’s future should be addressed by board Chairwoman Barbara Bryan.
“It’s a big question mark where we go from here,” Bryan said. “The question needs to be asked (of those who voted against the extension) where they want to go from here.”
Trustee Pam Ellis, who has been the loudest critic on the board of Beeman’s and Bryan’s leadership, said that for her, the answer was clear.
“He goes,” Ellis said. “That’s what last night decided. There’s no question about that.”
Trustee Lindy Graves agrees.
“I think he needs to go,” he said.
But the vote Tuesday night revealed more than just stark divisions over Beeman’s performance, Graves said.
“I think this vote proved we’re a split board,” he said.
Those sentiments were on full display Tuesday night as district staff members and community members spoke out about Beeman’s leadership and divisions on the board.
Many of those who spoke or attended spent the hour before the meeting demonstrating in front of the Lincoln Center. They were voicing their displeasure that labor contracts for two of SD2’s unions had yet to be negotiated but Beeman’s contract was up for extension in a special board meeting.
The board itself is vastly different from the one that voted unanimously to hire Beeman 15 months ago.
Of the nine trustees who went through the hiring process for the new superintendent, only three remain on the board — Bryan, Kathy Aragon and Teresa Stroebe.
Stroebe was one of the five who voted against the contract extension.
Trustee Travis Kemp was appointed just before Beeman was hired, and Connie Wardell and Graves were elected a month later. Greta Besch Moen was appointed later that summer, and Ellis and Travis Smith were elected the following May.
Graves said unity now has to be the goal of trustees. For the board — and the
district — to move forward, trustees have to get back on common ground and find ways to work together, he said.
To do that, trust and communication between trustees must improve, he said.
Bryan, who has been one of Beeman’s staunchest supporters, worries about the future of the board.
She was elected chair the same time Beeman was hired, and through her tenure on the board, she has tried to focus its efforts on strategic and long-term planning.
The idea was to get the board out of crisis mode “where every year you’re limping forward,” she said.
With the current divisions and Tuesday night’s vote, she sees a return to that type of board.
Ellis believes the board now must focus on its immediate problems and leave the more superfluous initiatives by the wayside. Personal attacks need to stop and the district needs to better embrace the state’s open meetings laws, she said.
In the end, she sees a lot of work ahead.
“The heart of this district is broken,” she said.