At raucous meeting, SD2 board votes not to renew Beeman's contract

2011-09-13T16:58:00Z 2014-08-25T10:01:12Z At raucous meeting, SD2 board votes not to renew Beeman's contractBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

In a raucous and sometimes contentious School District 2 board meeting Tuesday night, trustees voted 5-4 not to extend Superintendent Keith Beeman's contract through 2014.

His current contract expires at the end of June 2012. Beeman was hired by the district in the summer of 2010.

"I don't think it's a positive development at all for the district," Chairwoman Barbara Bryan said.

She said the district will have to move forward now, but she doesn't know how.

The proposed contract extension would have given Beeman a 2.8 percent raise, lifting his annual salary to $164,557.

Also new to the contract was language that would have allowed Beeman to leave the district with 45 days' notice. That he would be paid for his service up to that point was reported incorrectly in Tuesday's Billings Gazette.

If the district had terminated the contract, Beeman would have received 50 percent of his salary and 100 percent of his benefits for the duration of the contract. 

The meeting was attended by district employees and community members in such numbers that not everyone fit into the board room. Those standing outside listened through open windows.

When the vote was announced at the end of the four-hour meeting and it was clear the opposition had the majority, the crowd cheered.

Voting not to extend Beeman's contract were trustees Lindy Graves and Teresa Stroebe -- who voted by phone -- and Travis Smith, Travis Kemp and Pam Ellis.

Voting for the extension were trustees Greta Besch Moen, Connie Wardell, Bryan and Kathy Aragon.

The first half of the meeting was dominated by district employees and community members speaking out against Beeman's leadership style and the timing of the contract extension.

Leading up to the meeting, roughly 200 people demonstrated in front of the Lincoln Center, 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.

"That's one of the major things," said Deborah Chaffin, a 20-year employee of the district.

Following the demonstration, many of the protesters then filed in to attend the meeting.

As people stood to speak out about the direction of the district and spoke out against Beeman, the room would erupt in cheers.

Various times, Bryan told the room to quiet down.

At one point, past trustee Mary Jo Fox addressed the board and told Beeman that she was disappointed with the direction he'd taken the district and with what she said was his failure to adequately negotiate the district's union contracts.

She then accused Beeman and Bryan of deleting key findings from the demographic study that the district commissioned last summer.

That elicited a warning from Bryan for Fox to watch her tone. The room hissed and booed in response.

Bryan then turned to the crowd. "If you want to be treated like professionals, I suggest you act like professionals," she told them, which drew more boos from the crowd.

Some of the harshest criticism of Beeman came from outside the school community.

Dan Vierthaler, a local law enforcement officer who investigates online exploitation of children, said his job requires him to visit the schools regularly.

In addressing the board, he said he noticed a distinct change in tenor at the schools when Beeman was hired and that he's seen low morale and fear spread through the district.

"Dr. Beeman, you have failed as a leader," he said. "You manage, but you are no leader."

Past trustee Peter Gesuale also addressed the board and implored the trustees to give Beeman the time he needs to make the changes the board has asked him to make.

City Council members Richard Clark and Ed Ulledalen also addressed the board and praised Beeman's leadership. Both remarked that there's more cooperation between the city and the school district than there's ever been.

Following public comment, Bryan, Wardell and Aragon spoke at length about Beeman's strength as a leader and his capabilities.

Bryan said she couldn't emphasize enough the $2.5 million in savings Beeman found by working through the district's budget.

"I think we're lucky to have Dr. Beeman working for this district," she said.

In the end, it wasn't enough to sway a majority of trustees.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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