The Billings School Board has just one order of business at its special meeting Monday evening: selecting a superintendent to lead our public schools.
It’s probably the most important decision that the nine trustees will make this year. The skill and efforts of the superintendent have a tremendous effect on the education of our children and on our entire community.
It has been nearly a month since trustees brought five candidates to Billings for personal interviews. One subsequently dropped out, but trustees have not reached a consensus on any of the remaining four candidates.
Do the trustees agree?
Perhaps this week’s videoconference interviews and additional candidate information from the Montana School Boards Association have helped. However, the discussion so far indicates that trustees individually may have their minds made up and that they don’t agree.
A previous Gazette opinion pointed out the longstanding record of poor academic performance in candidate Eric Ely’s district in Schenectady, N.Y. Furthermore, in the just-ended criminal arson and bomb-making trial of a former Schenectady school facilities manager, more than one witness testified that Ely had failed to properly address complaints about the defendant and that Ely tipped him off to a law enforcement investigation. Incredibly, Billings trustees voted 5-4 on March 15 to keep Ely under consideration.
Again, trustees are urged to pass over Ely and consider which of the other three candidates is best qualified to lead Montana’s largest school district: R. Keith Beeman, currently associate superintendent for human resources in Chino, Calif.; Keith Meyer, assistant superintendent in Helena; or Scott Rogers, superintendent in Rupert, Idaho.
Strong consensus needed
The superintendent hiring decision should spring from a strong board consensus — ideally a unanimous vote, but not a 5-4 vote. The superintendent must be a person that all of the trustees can respect and work with closely. He must also be a person who will enhance the district’s community relations, as Superintendent Jack Copps has done.
If there is not strong support on the board for Beeman, Meyer or Rogers, trustees should consider another option: ask Copps to stay on till the board searches again and finds the right replacement. Delay would be preferable to a bad choice or a choice that would divide the board and divide the community.
Trustees have already committed many, many hours to the search process. Just this week while many Billings Public Schools families were enjoying spring vacation, trustees spent two of their evenings re-interviewing candidates. Nevertheless, board members need to take whatever time is necessary to find the right replacement for Copps.