ALTOONA — After nearly a half-year of difficult, controversial discussions and more than three months since beginning negotiations seeking her ouster, Altoona schools Superintendent Connie Biedron has resigned as part of a settlement between her and the school board.
Altoona school board members approved an agreement Friday night in which Biedron will receive her salary through June 30. Biedron’s annual salary was $136,311, and her salary settlement amounts to just over $50,000.
As part of the agreement, the district also will pay its portion of Biedron’s dental insurance and retirement contribution through June 30. In addition, the district will fund its portion of Biedron’s health insurance through Nov. 30.
“This is certainly a relief,” school board Vice President Helen Drawbert said following the nearly three-hour meeting preceding the settlement agreement. “This has been a long, hard road, and it feels good to finally get this done.”
The agreement does away with a grievance Biedron, 64, filed protesting the kinds of duties, such as grant writing, the school board assigned her since removing her superintendent duties on Dec. 4. The board decided on Nov. 6 to begin negotiations to part ways with Biedron after learning about her oftentimes adverse relations with district teachers and staff.
Madison attorney Kirk Strang, hired last month to replace Eau Claire attorney Stephen Weld in representing the school board, said the board’s making a final proposal recently to Biedron with spelled-out terms of a deal helped prompt the settlement.
“The board needed to make a statement with finality to it,” Strang said. “There was a need for closure here.”
Neither Biedron nor her attorney attended Friday’s meeting. Biedron was not available for comment.
Staff members said Biedron’s management style created a climate of fear and intimidation in Altoona schools, and that many district employees feared for their jobs during Biedron’s time as superintendent. Many district staff members left during her tenure because of a difficult work environment they attributed to her.
Biedron began working as superintendent in March 2012, when she replaced Greg Farhman in that job. During her time in that job she received accolades for such initiatives as boosting student technology access to starting an innovative fabrication lab to helping garner approval for a 2014 building referendum.
But teachers and other staff members said Biedron’s heavy-handed actions toward staff prompted many to leave and others to exist in a climate of fear. Biedron’s management style came to a head in the fall after the controversial Aug. 31 firing of high school football coach Steve English.
Biedron blamed English’s dismissal — which occurred without proper school board approval — on high school dean of students and athletic director Jamie Oliver, and board members removed Oliver’s athletic director duties. Biedron said she had no knowledge of Oliver’s intent to fire English, but text messages between her and Oliver indicate she backed that action.
Board members subsequently discussed Biedron’s management style with staff members and were upset to learn of the strained relations between staff and the superintendent. On Nov. 6 they decided to part ways with Biedron, but negotiations didn’t go anywhere until recently.
After reading a statement Friday announcing the board’s settlement with Biedron, Drawbert hugged her fellow board members. She said she and other board members are relieved to be finished with negotiations and are eager to focus on students’ educations again. Among the board’s next duties is a search for Biedron’s replacement, she said.
“I’m excited to get back to the work we really need to do ... focusing on our students and staff.”