The deadline to file to run for a seat on the School District 2 board of trustees closed Thursday evening; five candidates will be running.
The board has three open seats. Two of those seats — which represent the east side of the Heights with a portion of downtown, and the outlying areas that feed into SD2’s high schools — are contested. The final seat, representing the Billings South Side, has one candidate.
Susan Layton and Eric Olsen have filed to run in Zone B, which covers the areas south and west of Billings. That seat is currently held by Travis Smith, who chose not to run for re-election.
Zone B includes non-SD2 elementary schools, like Blue Creek, Elder Grove and Elysian. The Lockwood area is Zone A, and it's represented by Teresa Stroebe, whose term expires next year.
Layton is a mother and business owner in Billings. Her children attend Elder Grove School, and she and her husband own and operate Great Harvest Bread Co. on Poly Drive.
She's long been active in her children's education and earlier this month Bryan, her husband, suggested she run for a seat on the school board.
"He said, 'I think you should do this. I think you'd be good at it,' " she said.
For the past two years, SD2 has been in the process of evaluating its facilities and finding ways to house an ever-expanding student body as schools become more crowded.
The effort culminated with the passage of a $122 million bond last November, which will go to updating almost all of SD2's 22 elementary schools and building two new middle schools.
"There's a lot of positive momentum going on," Layton said.
She hopes to come in and keep that momentum moving forward. She believes she has the education and qualifications to work on the board. And she has the time and desire.
"I want to come in and be a part of the solution," she said.
Olsen, her opponent, sees it differently.
"I've fought that system," Olsen said of local public education. "The public system is not set up to teach kids to learn."
He said no focus has been paid to "kids and taxpayers" in the district and that if he's elected he'll make sure those two groups get the attention they deserve.
He hopes to put pressure on the other trustees to address those issues and plans to do it by asking his followers to attend school board meetings and speak up on the issues.
Olsen is one of the founders and leaders of the Tea Party group Montana Shrugged, which he helped form in 2008, following the election of Pres. Barack Obama.
He's not worried that putting pressure on the other eight trustees might affect his ability to work with them.
"There's nobody who could work with most of those people," he said.
Elsewhere in the district is the race for Zone 2, which encompasses the east side of the Heights and downtown Billings.
The incumbent, Janna Hafer, was appointed to the seat in July after Trustee Pam Ellis resigned earlier in the year. Because Ellis’ term expired this year, Hafer is required to run to keep the seat.
Running against her is Virgil Middendorf. Like Hafer, Middendorf had applied for Ellis’ seat last summer when the board sought a replacement. He and Hafer were the only two applicants.
Both are now running for the seat.
Middendorf lives on the east side of the Heights, near the site of the new Heights middle school, and Hafer lives downtown. Both are eager to see the district continue its improvement and want to be involved in the process.
Running to represent the South Side is Tanya Ludwig. The race had one other candidate early on, but she dropped out in late February after starting a new job.
The current trustee, Travis Kemp, chose not to seek re-election.