Superintendent contract renewal topic of upcoming special board meeting

The Sheridan School Board opened its regular meeting on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. with a presentation about board meeting protocol trustees learned at a four-hour training session with Debra Silk and Joe Brott from the Montana School Boards Association (MTSBA).

Superintendent Kim Harding created the PowerPoint, which stated that a school board serves as a liaison between schools and the communities that support them. The slides focused on an overview of the norms of governing and agenda item processes.

Once Harding concluded her presentation, the trustees approved second readings of eight updated policies and moved into new business. The board appointed a new trustee, Charlie Gilman, to replace Lisa Morgan, who recently moved out of district. All the trustees were in favor of welcoming Gilman to the board.

After making the decision to table discussion and overview of four new policies until the next meeting, the board moved onto agenda item eight under new business—superintendent evaluation and contract renewal. Approximately 30 members of the public were in attendance, but Harding’s performance review and evaluation took place in a closed, executive session.

Board member Karen Talley suggested discussing Harding’s contract renewal first, so the public would not be forced to wait, but the board chose to move directly into the executive session where they discussed the reviews each board member filled out in regards to Harding’s performance.

“There was talk about moving it around, but we did not feel comfortable rearranging the agenda,” Rhonda Boyd, board chair, said.

The executive session lasted for nearly two and a half hours, while the people in attendance waited in the hallway outside the Sheridan High School library. When the meeting was reopened, several community members had already left.

“Each [board member] had a whole big form to fill out and we went over the scoring from each trustee,” Boyd said, referring to why the executive session lasted so long. “We wanted to give each trustee plenty of time to talk on each point.”

William Wood, vice-chair of the board, moved to not renew Harding’s contract. Talley seconded the motion and the board opened the floor to public comment. Two members of the audience stood during public comment and urged the board not to renew the superintendent’s contract.

Trustees Wood, Talley and Therese Sutton voted in favor of not extending Harding’s contract. Trustees Travis Derby, John Russ Hamilton, Gilman and Boyd voted against removing Harding, and the motion failed.

Hamilton then moved to renew Harding’s contract for one year and Derby seconded that motion. Before the board voted, Talley requested they table the vote for a week until the chair and vice-chair had time to reach out to the MTSBA to confirm the legal protocol of renewing the superintendent’s contract.

“We should not just renew the contract without knowing the parameters,” Talley said. “We need to confirm the benefits, pay, vacation days and so on. Let’s postpone the agenda item for one week to talk to the MTSBA to make sure we are doing this the right way.”

Talley moved on an amendment to table the contract renewal vote and Wood seconded the motion. The vote passed unanimously and the board suspended the agenda item until a special meeting, which is open to the public, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

Not discussed at the meeting on Jan. 14 was information relating to Harding’s current candidacy for a superintendent position outside of Madison County. According to Marie Birky, executive secretary with Columbia Falls Schools in the Flathead region, Harding is one of three remaining candidates for the superintendent’s position for the district.

“The interviews are taking place Jan. 27 and 28,” Birky said. “The board will make a final decision sometime after that.”

When questioned about her decision to apply for employment that would take her away from Sheridan if she were offered the position, Harding cited the desire to take her “educational work to the next level” at the bigger Columbia Falls district.

“I have learned a lot in this school,” Harding said, referring to her position at Sheridan Schools. “I learned a lot about facilitating group processes and implementing common core standards.”

 

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