Gazette opinion: Trustees must work on superintendent issues

2011-09-15T00:00:00Z 2011-09-26T16:40:11Z Gazette opinion: Trustees must work on superintendent issues The Billings Gazette
September 15, 2011 12:00 am

The Billings school board’s vote Tuesday against extending the superintendent’s contract through June 2014 isn’t the end of this issue. Rather, the nine trustees must now move forward to address concerns with Keith Beeman’s performance and determine next steps for directing the district’s top administrator.

The timing of Tuesday’s special meeting was terrible. Contracts covering hundreds of other district employees (union and non-union) have yet to be approved for the current school year. Usually, all School District 2 work contacts have been negotiated before the previous school year ends.

Beeman was hired in large part because of his experience in cutting the school budget in his last district in California. He has worked hard on proposed budgets all year. Next year’s budget is projected to be even leaner. This is a tough time for the district, a time when an inspirational leader would rally the staff and community to pull together to do more for our children with fewer resources. The district needs a superintendent who is not only fiscally responsible, but also an excellent leader and communicator.

Within the last few months of 2011, the board needs to determine whether to revote on the rejected contract proposal, renegotiate a contract extension with Beeman, or find a different superintendent for next school year. All trustees should be involved in this discussion.

It should be noted that only three trustees now on the board — Chairwoman Barbara Bryan, Kathy Aragon and Teresa Stroebe — were serving throughout the five-month superintendent search that ended in Beeman’s selection in April 2010. Travis Kemp was appointed to the board shortly before Beeman was hired. Connie Wardell and Lindy Graves were elected weeks later. Greta Moen was appointed to the board months later. Pam Ellis and Travis Smith were elected this May.

Every trustee needs to be on the same page with the same information and opportunity for input.

The contract extension went down by a one-vote margin. However, if a contract extension is the right direction for the district, there really ought to be more than five of nine trustees supporting it. A board that is split nearly down the middle on this crucial decision has other issues that need to be resolved first.

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