BRYAN RESIGNS

Barbara Bryan resigns from Billings SD2 board

Had long history of advocacy with the board
2011-10-18T13:22:00Z 2011-10-19T05:49:44Z Barbara Bryan resigns from Billings SD2 boardBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 18, 2011 1:22 pm  • 

In the end, Barbara Bryan stepped out quietly from the board she had, from the beginning, fought with.

In a short, spare email, she announced Tuesday afternoon that she would resign from the SD2 board.

"Board service has ceased to be a productive use of my time," she wrote in a statement. "Over the past 10 years, I have done everything I can to improve school district management, operations, finances, facilities, and educational outcomes."

Reached by phone, she said she had nothing more she wanted to say on the matter.

Bryan, elected to the Billings School District 2 board in 2009, has been involved with board politics since 2001. That year, the district had announced plans to close Rimrock Elementary, her son's school, and in response she sued.

The suit, which claimed the district had not properly involved the public in the decision making process for closing the school, had by 2003 worked its way to the state Supreme Court. The justices there ruled in Bryan's favor.

That case became a bludgeon this summer used by Bryan's critics, who claimed that Bryan, as board chairwoman, was guilty of the same things for which she had sued the district 10 years ago -- something Bryan sharply and sometimes angrily denied.

The Supreme Court victory in 2003 immediately placed Bryan in the public square and she used the exposure to advocate across the state for better public involvement in the school board.

She chaired a committee for the SD2 board in 2004 that created a 20-year facilities plan for the district. When work on that committee wrapped up in 2005, she decided to run for a spot on the board the following year.

In explaining her decision to run, she said at the time, "Billings is at a crossroads. This is a time of great opportunity to close the serious gap between schools and community. Fresh ideas and new leadership are needed to get the job done."

She lost that race to Kathy Kelker, who was then finishing up her second three-year term. Kelker had served on the board once before for three terms in the 1980s.

Then in 2009, Kelker announced that she wouldn't seek re-election and so Bryan ran again, this time winning against Shelley Van Atta (who had dropped out of the race, although her name remained on the ballot).

Bryan served a year on the board and then was elected by her fellow trustees chairwoman last year, the same time Superintendent Keith Beeman was hired by the district.

The two quickly formed a close kinship, and in the process left some trustees feeling they had been alienated from some of the district's decision making.

It all came to a head last month when Bryan placed on the board's agenda a proposal to extend Beeman's contract through 2014. The contract was to expire next summer.

Bryan, along with trustees Greta Besch Moen, Connie Wardell and Kathy Aragon, advocated passionately for Beeman. But by that point, ill will among teachers and administrators had soured to such a degree against Beeman, and feelings of mistrust had grown enough on the board that Beeman's contract extension was voted down 5-4.

Those meetings were raucous and loud and Bryan, as chairwoman, often warned the public that she would have them removed if they didn't show respect. Those stern warnings rankled some trustees.

By last week, trustees Pam Ellis and Travis Smith were openly advocating for Bryan to step down as board chairwoman. Bryan refused.

At Monday night's meeting, none of the nine trustees showed signs of the conflict that had plagued the board most of the summer. However, when discussion came up on finding an interim superintendent to take Beeman's place, the fault lines began to show.

The board had a spirited discussion on how best to move forward with finding the interim, with divisions falling along the same 5-4 split.

In the end, the board voted 5-4 against Bryan's wishes to bring in an outside firm to help. She announced her resignation Tuesday afternoon.

"We've all been stressed by the conflict," Ellis said Tuesday afternoon, saying she had no hard feelings against Bryan. "All you can do is your best."

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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