The abrupt departure of Langley Superintendent of Schools Cheryle Beaumont raises more questions than it answers.
Her firing by a majority of trustees wasn’t all that surprising. When five trustees were elected this fall on a platform similar to four others (union-backed, opposition to H.D. Stafford becoming a middle school and general unhappiness with the school district’s direction), Beaumont was on borrowed time. Despite the fact that her contract ran to June, 2014, it was clear that the majority of the board would be opposing her on many issues. The board now had the five votes needed (a two-thirds majority) to end her employment.
A break with the past may have been seen as necessary for the new board to get on with its agenda. Continual conflict at the top level is the last thing the school district needs, in particular because it must fully concentrate on repaying its debt to the province. The provincial auditor-general has told trustees they must work together to achieve that end.
However, the board must inform the public just how much Beaumont’s departure is costing taxpayers, and where in the budget that money will come from. The district has an agreement with the province on repaying debt, and cannot run a deficit, so it seems likely that at least some of the funds will come from educational programming.
The larger question is this — how easy will it be to attract a new superintendent, given the circumstances? While replacement of school superintendents does happen from time to time, it is almost unheard of to replace one in mid-contract, while also paying down a very challenging debt.
Langley had significant difficulty in attracting a new secretary-treasurer because of the debt and conflict at the board level. Will it have a similar problem attracting a new superintendent? That isn’t good for students.
That’s the bottom line in education — student achievement. By many measures, achievement improved under Beaumont’s leadership. It’s something that was a major focus of hers.
The board may disagree with her approach, and has every right to fire her. But it must also ensure that the district keeps its eyes on the goal of helping students graduate, ready to be an active and contributing part of society. That’s what public education is all about.