SD2 board votes to terminate contract of Superintendent Beeman

2011-09-26T18:25:00Z 2012-01-11T14:28:12Z SD2 board votes to terminate contract of Superintendent Beeman

By ROB ROGERS

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
September 26, 2011 6:25 pm  • 

School District 2 trustees voted 7-2 Monday night to terminate Superintendent Keith Beeman’s contract.

Chairwoman Barbara Bryan and Trustee Greta Besch Moen were the two who voted against ending Beeman’s contract. Trustees then voted unanimously to work with Beeman to negotiate a buy-out package for him by Oct. 31.

Board vice chair Kathy Aragon and trustee Lindy Graves will join board attorney Jeff Weldon in negotiating the termination conditions with Beeman.

The two-hour meeting was at times contentious and emotional, with Beeman sitting quiet and expressionless through all of it.

Beeman declined to comment after the meeting.

“I really, really dislike the outcome tonight,” Bryan said after the vote.

At one point, Bryan threatened to remove anyone from the meeting who clapped or hollered when they heard comments from trustees or community members addressing the board.

Numerous times during the evening, Bryan expressed exasperation that Beeman was going to be let go by trustees after doing everything the board had directed him to do.

He received a positive evaluation from trustees in February, saved the district $2.5 million and prevented extensive cuts to teachers and staff, she said.

“It’s beyond me” that the board is at this point, she said.

Moen passed out to trustees a four-page memo detailing all of Beeman’s accomplishments since joining the district.

Trustees Graves and Travis Kemp had called for Monday’s special meeting to vote on Beeman’s contract. Moen asked them specifically why they were in such a hurry to remove Beeman from the district.

Kemp explained that after the meeting two weeks ago — where the board voted 5-4 not to extend Beeman’s contract through 2014 — and following numerous phone calls from his constituents, he felt compelled to put Beeman’s contract up for a vote.

“I’m happy with everything,” he said of the meeting’s outcome.

He would have preferred to negotiate Beeman’s buy-out sooner than Oct. 31. But he said with an end date now in place, the district can move forward.

Trustee Pam Ellis said Beeman had failed to successfully negotiate the district’s three union contracts. After the failed contract extension vote from two weeks ago, she doesn’t believe Beeman can effectively lead negotiations now.

From the beginning of the meeting, trustees spoke of Beeman’s departure as inevitable.

“We need to find a way to move forward,” Bryan said 30 minutes before the board voted. “I think this is a done deal.”

Under Beeman’s current contract, the board is given the authority to terminate him without cause. It requires the district to pay out 50 percent of the remainder of his contract and 100 percent of his benefits.

Beeman’s contract would have ended in June 2012. He earns $160,000 a year.

Weldon warned the board to be cautious. The state Supreme Court, in its Brown v. Yellowstone Club ruling over the summer, may have made that portion of Beeman’s contract legally questionable, he said.

He advised the board to negotiate a buy-out with Beeman at the table. The board voted unanimously to do so.

The board then voted to form a committee to search for both an interim and permanent superintendent.

Ellis proposed calling a meeting and inviting previous superintendent Jack Copps to attend, asking him if he’d be willing to step in until a permanent replacement was hired.

That drew a sharp response from Bryan, who accused Ellis of orchestrating a temporary replacement for Beeman before the board had voted to end his contract.

But the sharpest rebuke came from Trustee Connie Wardell.

“The man did nothing for us and put us in debt,” she said, referring to the contract Copps negotiated with teachers in 2008.

Her comment drew loud gasps from many in the room.

Finally, the board voted to return to clerk Leo Hudetz the authority to approach district staff with questions from trustees.

Beeman, when he was hired, had directed Hudetz to run all trustee questions for staff through the superintendent’s office.

As the meeting wrapped, trustees moved from talk of Beeman to the communication issues facing the board. All agreed they needed to make efforts to come together and address the fiscal issues facing the board.

“Let’s do this deliberately and responsibly,” Bryan said.

Beeman was hired by the district in May 2010 and started the following month at an annual salary of $160,000.

He was instrumental in carving $2.5 million from the district’s budget, keeping it in the black. At the board’s direction, he reorganized leadership in the district’s central office.

But he also found trouble early on, when he held the district’s teacher orientation meeting before school started in August 2010 at Faith Chapel. A handful of teachers complained about the location and the American Civil Liberties Union sent the district a letter.

Rumblings among staff continued when Beeman tightened the district’s media policy, barring school principals and other district leaders from speaking to the news media without his prior approval.

By the end of the 2010 school year, recently retired teachers began to speak about low morale in the district and a wide mistrust of Beeman within the schools.

That mistrust was fed by a contract dispute between the district and the teachers union, which ended last month when the board awarded steps and lanes raises for teachers nearly two months after their contract had expired.

The victory was a blow to Beeman’s administration. He, along with a handful of trustees, had hoped to secure a one-time bonus for all district employees in place of giving steps and lanes raises to teachers and longevity pay to its other two unions.

Steps and lanes are raises that teachers earn for advancing their education and training, and for the amount of time they have in the district.

While work on the teacher deal crept forward through the spring and summer, negotiations with the two other unions never started. That led to a demonstration last week of nearly 200 SD2 employees and supporters who marched around the Lincoln Center for an hour before packing the special board meeting that night.

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

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