Altoona schools Superintendent Connie Biedron’s presence in the district amid the growing controversy about her role in the Aug. 31 firing of the high school football coach created distractions and discomfort among staff, prompting the decision to prevent her from working at school, according to school board President Robin Elvig.
That action was part of the board’s unanimous vote Monday night to remove Biedron, 64, as superintendent. Biedron remains a district employee, but her superintendent duties were transferred to business manager Michael Markgren. Biedron will continue to work for the district off-site, Elvig said.
The board’s move also was based on Biedron’s oftentimes adversarial relationships with staff, Elvig said.
The board’s decision was announced following an 85-minute closed-session discussion at Monday’s school board meeting, the fourth since Oct. 25 that has centered on Biedron. Sources familiar with the situation told the Leader-Telegram those ongoing discussions include negotiations regarding Biedron’s contract and are likely to lead to her leaving the district.
Removing Biedron from working in the district administration office was necessary to avoid growing unease among school staff and sends a signal to community members that the board is attempting to rectify difficult circumstances, Elvig said.
“It really is an awkward situation,” Elvig said of Biedron’s working at school amid media and community scrutiny of the situation and as the school board continues to negotiate with her. “We decided we have to show that we are taking action on this.”
Biedron declined to comment specifically on the board’s vote regarding her job but said she hopes “that what has happened in the boardroom does not disrupt the outstanding work that is underway in our schools.”
When interviewed about the situation recently, Biedron said she planned to remain working as superintendent. She attended Monday’s meeting and discussed such topics as grants to school programs and student academic achievement scores before the board’s vote to remove her as superintendent.
Biedron was hired as superintendent in March 2012 to replace the retired Greg Fahrman. The board granted her a pay raise Sept. 5, bringing her salary to $136,311. Her contract with the district is through the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Biedron attracted school board scrutiny for her role in the firing of football coach Steve English at the beginning of this school year. Following English’s firing, Biedron said she had no knowledge of that decision and reprimanded dean of students James Oliver for firing English. Oliver was subsequently stripped of his athletic director duties related to the football team.
A story in Sunday’s Leader-Telegram detailed text messages between Biedron and Oliver the morning after English’s dismissal that indicate Biedron backed that action. Biedron continues to maintain she was not involved with firing English, but school board members did not find her account of the incident believable, Elvig said.
On Tuesday, school staff members received an update regarding the school board’s action related to Biedron. A letter signed by Elvig was sent to students’ families explaining the situation regarding Biedron, and the school board president met with district principals to devise a communication process related to the superintendent change.
“Our decision was difficult and was made in full consideration of what is best for the district,” Elvig wrote in the letter.
Elvig and other board members declined to comment on negotiations with Biedron. They said they’re focused on moving the district past the current controversy.
“It’s been tough for everybody,” board member David Rowe said following Monday’s meeting. “Now we want to move forward.”