Billings Schools begin process to fill school board vacancy

Billings School District 2 is seeking a new board trustee following the resignation of Mike Leo in October.

In an Oct. 27 letter to District Secretary and Chief Financial Officer Craig Van Nice, Leo announced his resignation effective immediately and thanked him for all his help over the years.

Mike Leo District 6.jpg

Leo, 56, has served as Trustee for Zone 6 of the West End Elementary/College District of Billings for the past seven years and has also served as Chairman of the Board’s Stakeholder Relations Committee. He did not specify why exactly he decided to resign, but told the Gazette in an email that the decision was due to several converging factors.

The rest of the board formally accepted Leo’s resignation under Montana law during their regular November 21 meeting. It was also decided that Executive Vice President Jennifer Hoffman would replace Leo as Chair of the Stakeholder Committee.

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Following an approved vacancy, the Board has 60 days to appoint a new Trustee to serve until the next scheduled election. If the board does not make a decision by that time, a commissioner will be selected by the Yellowstone County superintendent. Those selected must stand for election in May 2023 for a one-year term and again the following May for a full three-year term.

The district must first finalize the new trustee zone boundaries before beginning the application process for the vacant board seat. The board plans to hold a public hearing on the new zones during a special meeting on December 9 and record all public comments. The formal notice is to be published in the Official Journal on 2 December.

Van Nice explained during the meeting that there will be some urgency in determining the new zones since the district must submit this information to both the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Secretary of State for review and comment. Upon approval by both entities, another special board meeting will be scheduled to approve the zones and then formally begin the application process. The board has until January 21 to select a new trustee.

“It’s going to be a tight schedule,” he said at the November meeting.

A tiring but rewarding experience

Originally from the California Bay Area, Leo moved to Billings with his wife and two children in 2008 and quickly learned to appreciate the community for its people, recreational opportunities and culture. Before moving to Montana, Leo became familiar with organizational budgets through his work at a public foundation and then volunteered in various programs at his children’s elementary school, Poly Drive.

This experience prompted him to run for the board seat in 2015.

“I see my service on the board as an extension of that — I just want to support our excellent school district at the political level, mobilize additional resources at the state level, all with the core goal of improving school performance,” he said.

Elected SD2 Trustees

Newly elected trustees Gordon Klasna (center) and Mike Leo listen to a presentation during a District 2 Board of Trustees meeting in May.

Derek Brouwer/Gazette contributor

Leo is the founder of consulting firm Leo and Associates and currently works as a real estate agent for Keller Williams Yellowstone Properties in Billings. On the volunteer side, he was recently removed from the Yellowstone County Court Appointed Special Attorneys for Children (CASA) board. He plans to take a break from volunteering and explore other avenues to serve the community in the future.

He encourages the new trustee to understand SD2’s unique position as the largest municipality in a predominantly rural state and the challenges of servicing individual classrooms through Montana’s county-level funding formula.

He added that continued advocacy for classroom funding is key to ensuring equitable education for all.

“The district is like a public utility building human infrastructure. All of our local institutions and companies depend on a well-trained workforce to achieve their goals. In this way, a distinguished school district is an integral part of a thriving community. I want to encourage everyone who is focused on strengthening the district to get involved. Anyone who focuses on culture war issues doesn’t need to apply,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Leo looked back fondly on his experience on the board and said he will miss visiting the schools and students the most.

“It’s going to be very rewarding and very exhausting at the same time,” he said of what awaits the next trustee. “Try to focus on what is best for student achievement and the rest will fall into place.”

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