A group of Billings School District 2 Board trustees decided Tuesday night to visit the home districts of at least two of the district’s superintendent candidates.
In a special meeting Tuesday night that at times got intense, the board continued its discussion of candidates, finding little consensus on who the new superintendent should be. After three hours of discussion, the board voted to form a subcommittee to create specific follow-up questions for each of the four applicants and visit the home districts of Eric Ely, the superintendent from Schenectady, N.Y., and Keith Beeman, associate superintendent from Chino, Calif.
Chairman Malcolm Goodrich urged the board to move quickly.
“We need to pick a candidate before the end of the month,” he said.
The subcommittee will report back to the board on Monday, and the Montana School Boards Association will arrange the visits to Chino and Schenectady.
Early in the meeting, Mary Jo Fox offered her opinions on the four candidates. Trustees had begun the process Monday by ranking their top picks. Fox told trustees Tuesday she didn’t feel she could rank any of the candidates given the number of questions she had.
She offered her starkest opinion on Ely.
“I have many questions about Eric Ely,” she said. “I couldn’t give Mr. Ely a number right now. I would give him a zero.”
Fox spoke pointedly about the controversy in Ely’s home district regarding Steven Raucci, the retired facilities manager there on trial for arson, vandalism and weapons possession. Raucci is accused of leaving pipe-bombs at the home of coworkers in an effort to intimidate them.
She wanted to know how much Ely knew of Raucci’s activities and Raucci’s reportedly high salary, wondering how these types of things happen in the district under Ely’s leadership.
“We owe it to this district to know the answers before we offer a candidate a contract,” she said.
Fox spoke highly of Keith Meyer, assistant superintendent from Helena.
“I have yet to find someone who has found fault with him,” she said.
Meyer was discounted Monday night by most of the trustees for coming from a smaller district and not having top leadership experience. Trustee Peter Gesuale, whose first pick was Ely, said Monday that Billings needs a candidate with urban district experience.
Fox disagreed and to make her point, she stood up and walked across the board room to a bronze plaque memorializing Roger Eble, a popular past SD2 superintendent who came to Billings from Helena. She said having urban school district experience perhaps isn’t the most important.
“We could be snobs” and overlook small towns, she said. “But good people come from different places.”
A few minutes later, Gesuale spoke up to give a rebuttal.
“I’m getting a little frustrated here,” he said.
Insinuating that he or other trustees are snobs for looking to candidates with big city experience was “totally out of line,” he said. “We have to be realistic about the skills that we need. It’s not snobbery or arrogance. I don’t appreciate being characterized that way.”
Trustees approved a list of 14 characteristics they felt the district’s new superintendent should posses — everything from educational leadership to solid internal and external communication skills — and identified five basic issues they need to work on with each candidate to decide which will be best for Billings, including the controversy surrounding Ely.
“We had a good honest debate,” Goodrich said.
Now, he said, it’s time to focus on making a pick.
Contact Rob Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1231.