Ketchikan’s school board voted earlier this month to start negotiating a permanent contract for the school district’s top job. In part one of our interview, interim superintendent Beth Lougee sat down with KRBD’s Eric Stone to talk about her long career in education.
Eric Stone: Beth Lougee graduated in the late ‘90s with degrees in elementary and special education. After a few years of teaching, she got masters’ degrees in school counseling and administration.
Beth Lougee: From there, I was at a K-12 school for, I think it was about six years total, four in administration. And then our youngest son had graduated, so we were empty-nesters. We had an opportunity to go to New Mexico, follow a superintendent down there who we worked for up in Wyoming and go to a bigger school, more opportunities we felt for our careers. And that took us to New Mexico
ES: So that brings us to Silver City, New Mexico. There were complaints filed against you in that state’s labor board.
BL: These were situations where, in New Mexico, anybody can file to the state labor board. Just like here — the Human Rights Commission. It’s a process to be heard, and have things investigated. Everything was investigated […] but nothing was founded — as far as harassment, discrimination, I think there’s the words retaliation — all those words used in there, but nothing like that was founded.[…]
There was a small group of people: teachers who, for whatever reason, didn’t like the superintendent, didn’t like that the superintendent had hired us, knew that we had ties from Wyoming.
ES: The complaints largely dealt with alleged violations of the collective bargaining agreement between the district and teachers.
But that brings up another question: as Ketchikan’s superintendent, you’ll have to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. So I wanted to ask — did you take any lessons away from your time in Silver City?
BL: Absolutely, I think I think every situation that you go through provides a lesson learned in life. The lessons I learned was that the only way a collective bargaining agreement works is if both sides abide by it. One side can’t abide by it and then expect why they’re not abiding by it and you’re asking for it to be followed. Then what I watched was people just take it to the next level to keep it going.[…]
Yes. I guess, you know, to you, you asked about the collective bargaining agreement. One thing that always confused me with the collective bargaining agreements in New Mexico was they had a grievance process. They would never stop. They’d go level one, we’d meet, we’d have an agreement, they’d go level two with the same thing. Level three, level four. There were times they even brought them back down to level one or level three. […] And then they went to the state and started filing with the state.
ES: Lougee says that after a few years, the stress got to be too much. The same few people continued to go after her husband and her. Eventually, complaints against Lougee’s husband reached the state education department. They scheduled a hearing to determine whether her husband David would lose his license.
But then this happened.
BL: We got a call from our lawyer saying that the state was ready to negotiate. They wanted to see if they could go into a settlement with us — not go in to a hearing. The settlement first came that he would involuntarily give up his license. They also wanted me to involuntarily give up my license. We both said, we will not do that. We have not done anything wrong.
What we will do is, we will resign because we’d already made up our minds that we were going to resign, because stress and everything else, it was too much. We said we’d resign, but at the end of our contracts in June. So that was our agreement. Our other agreement was we have no plans to ever come back to New Mexico. In 2022, we will both let our licenses lapse — because as educators, you can do that. We can choose not to renew them.
And then we agreed with the state that we would never file a lawsuit against them. And they took that agreement. And then I think it was the next day in the paper, “Lougee has to let his license lapse.” And that has haunted us ever since.
ES: What would you say to someone that says, “This history of complaints gives me pause when I’m thinking about whether I want this person to be my next superintendent.” So how would you respond to that?
BL: My first response is, come talk to me. I will share the other side, I will answer questions. I’ve already done that many, multiple times because people I work with have asked, or it’s come up. And that’s important to me.
Come talk to me to find out what the other side is, because — I do protect confidentiality, even though I’m in another state, I won’t disclose some of the details — but I will tell what led up to some of this. What was the other side you know, I’ll tell my story of what happened. Because I am also — I’m a true believer in two-way communication.
The other thing is, get to know me. I think you will find out that that is not me.
That was a time and place where my husband and I both thought we were going to a place to learn new skills, new areas. We had been out of Wyoming very, very little. The one thing I took from that too was I realized how naive I was moving into an area of New Mexico with a whole bunch of different dynamics and what I was ever used to. But I came out of it. I love the area, we have lifelong friends there. Those people got to know us.
And that’s what I just encourage: get to know me, get to know my philosophy. Know that probably first and foremost, I’m going to be the first to advocate for anybody and everybody, and I think that’s my reputation, too. So that’s what I would like to say: let’s have that conversation so that I can answer any and all questions. And get to know me.
ES: That was Ketchikan’s interim superintendent, Beth Lougee. Ketchikan’s school board recently voted to start negotiating a permanent contract with Lougee. That’s the final step before she’s formally hired.
As acting school board president, Bridget Mattson plays an integral role in the hiring process. She says she’s aware of Lougee’s record. She says Lougee was thoroughly vetted when she was originally hired as curriculum director.
Bridget Mattson: So I looked into it, and I kept diving, and everything that I found showed her to be an advocate of teachers, and an advocate of students. So everything that I found as I dug into some of these issues and actually looked for the entire story, not just the initial headlines. I found her to be an incredible advocate of learning and of students.
So I don’t really have any problems with Beth Lougee’s past record. In fact, I feel that her past record speaks incredibly highly of her character and how she cares for kids.
In part two of our interview with Beth Lougee, we discuss her vision for Ketchikan’s schools. She’s the sole candidate for the district’s top job.