SHIPROCK — Central Consolidated School District board members renewed Superintendent Don Levinski contract late Tuesday evening after many hours of divisive debate.

The district board of education decided to renew the contract after four hours of deliberation. The board already had spent six hours discussing Levinski's contract in closed sessions earlier this month. Board members remained in a closed session until 11 p.m. discussing Levinski's contract and evaluation.

Board members Matthew Tso, Lupita White and Christina Aspaas voted to approve the contract. Board members Hoskie Benally and Randy Manning voted against it.

Levinski has been a divisive figure since he was hired.

He replaced former Superintendent Gregg Epperson, who was placed on administrative leave in May 2011. Levinski replaced him two days after Epperson was put on leave, and signed a contract in July 2011.

He faced suspension by the New Mexico Public Education Department only months later, in November the same year.

Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera told Levinski that he violated district policy and state law during his time as acting superintendent, when he did not have a contract.

He had promoted and demoted district employees under questionable circumstances, allowed board members to interview job candidates, and had censored public comment in open meetings, the letter said. Levinski, nonetheless, kept his job.

Levinski declined an interview before the decision Tuesday evening, saying that he was afraid it would "jinx" the outcome. He had a prepared statement that he released after the board's decision.

The statement listed what he felt were his greatest accomplishments since June 2011. They included his changes to administration, as well as his push for "Common Core" standards and higher graduation rates.

He said nothing of improvements to be made, nor of his reaction to the contract renewal.

Levinski's new three-year contract will begin this year and end in June 2016. It will replace his current contract, which would have ended in June 2014.

"I do have concerns on many levels," said Ewa Krakowska, a representative from the National Education Association of Northwest New Mexico. She said she was speaking as a former district employee.

Krakowska worked as a history teacher at Shiprock High School for nearly 13 years before she left the district in December last year.

"Employees feel threatened and intimidated," Krakowska said, noting that morale is low. "It's affecting the students."

Representatives from the Central Consolidated Education Association expressed similar worries, and also fretted about the focus on test scores and graduation rates, rather than on learning.

Representatives also wondered why the evaluation and contract renewal was before the end of the year, when assessments are released to reflect district progress.

About a quarter of attendees at the meeting did not want Levinski's contract to be renewed, according to district spokesman James Preminger.

For others, the concerns about Levinski seemingly have dissipated.

Larry Behrens, spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said that the department trusted the board to make the right decision. Behrens did not elaborate on whether the department felt Levinski had made progress since it threatened his suspension.

"We respect the authority of local school boards. We expect them to make the best decisions for our students," Behrens said in an email Tuesday.

Aside from the closed session and vote on Levinski's contract, the board still had a three-page agenda to go over Tuesday evening. Public comment was not on the agenda, however, in an attempt to shorten the meeting time, Tso said.

Others speculated that it might have been because the board did not want to respond to criticism regarding the new "no-zero" grading policy at Shiprock High School.

The district is expected to adopt the policy in the near future, Preminger said, and pamphlets in support of it were available at the entry to the boardroom Tuesday evening.

Jenny Kane may be reached at jkane@daily-times.com; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane.