Board queries SD2 hopefuls

2010-03-01T23:00:00Z Board queries SD2 hopefulsROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
March 01, 2010 11:00 pm  • 

Showing a wide array of experience, knowledge and talent, the first three Billings School District 2 superintendent candidates sat and interviewed one at a time with the School Board for more than three hours Monday night.

Answering a series of 12 questions, Keith Beeman, Cole Pugh and Keith Meyer spoke about their experience in public education, what qualities they’d bring to Billings and how they’d deal with the district’s host of issues.

“I do not shy away from challenges,” Beeman told the board.

Beeman, an associate superintendent of human resources from Southern California, was first to be interviewed. Speaking clearly and succinctly, he appeared confident and intelligent as he answered the questions and follow-up queries from trustees.

He was followed by Pugh, a superintendent from Fort Worth, Texas. Pugh was more laconic in answering questions and spoke a little more informally.

A few times, he illicited laughs from trustees as he joked about budgets and being a lifelong learner.

“I would have been a lifetime college student if it had paid well,” he quipped.

Finishing the evening was Meyer, associate superintendent of Helena Public Schools.

As the only Montanan interviewing, Meyer tailored many of his remarks to the commonalities he shares with the area and the differences he’s seen.

Asked specifically about what Billings could do to improve as a school district, Meyers wondered aloud if the district could do more to build a sense of community throughout the city. “I’m intrigued that you’re elected from different districts,” he said. Sometimes “that concept tends not to build communities.”

Trustees questioned all three candidates at length about the financial troubles facing the district and asked them for possible solutions.

Each spoke about the importance of prioritizing programs and services and working with the community to build up trust and volunteerism.

“We can’t talk in terms of cutting,” Beeman said. “We have to talk in terms of saving (programs).”

Both Pugh and Meyer were asked about their districts’ success in passing bonds and mill levies. Pugh’s district passed a $394 million bond two years ago. Helena’s voters have repeatedly passed many mill levies.

Pugh said they found success with bonds when they brought the community into the district planning process. His district created a community group that decided what it wanted the district to build and how much members thought the district should ask from voters, he said.

Meyer talked about building trust with the community and helping parents, business leaders and the public feel invested in the local school district.

“I would define it as members of the community understanding the work the district does,” Meyer said.

The board finished its interviews by 10 p.m.

Trustees will convene again tonight at 6 to interview Scott Rogers, superintendent from Rupert, Idaho, and Eric Ely, superintendent from Schenectady, N.Y.

Rogers and Ely will spend the day touring the district and meeting with teachers, administrators and community members.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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