Speaking for the first time publicly about their top choices to lead Billings Public Schools, board trustees expressed opinions as varied as the candidates vying for the superintendent position.
“My first choice by a significant margin is Eric Ely,” said Peter Gesuale about Schenectady City School District’s superintendent.
Ely was board Chairman Malcolm Goodrich’s last pick. Goodrich’s lead choice to take over is Keith Meyer, assistant superintendent of Helena Public Schools. Goodrich was the only one on the nine-trustee board to choose Meyer as first pick.
Keith Beeman, assistant superintendent of human resources for Chino Valley Unified School District in Southern California was Trustee Kathy Aragon’s first pick. She was the only trustee to give him the top spot.
Beeman was the second choice for the majority of the board.
Scott Rogers, superintendent of the Minidoka County School District in Rupert, Idaho, was first pick for Joel Guthals and Joyce Weber.
“He struck me as having demonstrated strong management skills and management experience,” Guthals said.
Trustees Barbara Ryan and Teresa Stroebe selected Ely as their top choice. The meeting ended before Mary Jo Fox could voice her opinion.
Trustees will meet again tonight to continue talking about the candidates. Many have said their opinions may change after they discuss each candidate’s merits.
After an hour of talk Monday night, Ely seemed to be the most divisive figure.
In February 2009, Ely’s facilities supervisor Steven Raucci was arrested on suspicion of arson, vandalism and weapons possession. Raucci was accused of leaving pipe bombs on the property of co-workers and vandalizing prop-erty.
Raucci retired two months after his arrest and is on trial.
Gesuale, speaking passionately in Ely’s defense, said Ely appeared to have the best experience leading a big-city school district, something Billings desperately needs.
“Billings is an urban district,” he said. “It’s not a rural district.”
Goodrich said that he thinks Ely is a well-qualified candidate but that Billings needs a leader who can get to work immediately after starting.
Instead, Goodrich said, Ely’s issues in New York have “created some baggage.” It’s likely he’d spend his first months on the job trying to explain those issues instead of leading the district, Goodrich said.
He called a remark made by a school employee that Ely gave off a bad vibe “appallingly unprofessional.” (“He made some really good comments but I had a really hard time dealing with the ‘ick’ feeling,” the employee wrote of Ely.)
The letter to the editor in last week’s Billings Gazette that referred to Ely as “a dark, menacing force for evil” was nothing more than school-yard behavior, Gesuale said.
“It’s almost name-calling,” he said.
Goodrich also brought up as a concern Ely’s reportedly telling an audience in Erie, Pa., where he has also applied for a job, that Erie was his first pick. Goodrich said that didn’t sound like someone who was committed to stay in Billings.
Gesuale said that he had talked to Ely about the comment and that Ely told Gesuale that the newspaper there had misquoted him.
“Frankly,” Gesuale said. “There’s nothing wrong with ranking opportunties.”
Stroebe said she had classified the applicants as “the tough guy, the smart guy and the nice guys.” Ely was the tough guy, Beeman the smart guy and Meyer and Rogers the nice guys.
She said Billings right now needs the tough guy.
The board will meet at 5:30 p.m. today in the boardroom at the Lincoln Center to continue its discussion.
“We’re going to have to have a whole lot of debate about these people,” Goodrich said.
Contact Rob Rogers at email@example.com or 657-1231.