School District 2 Trustees appointed Bruce MacIntyre, a lobbyist for the Billings Chamber of Commerce, to fill an open seat on the school board Tuesday evening.
Trustees cited MacIntyre's legislative and business experience in picking him over Peter Gesuale, a former trustee. The open seat representing Billings' West End was vacated by Rob Rogers in March.
"We have two very, very qualified candidates," said trustee Suzie Layton. "My term is coming to an end and I feel like both of them could take my place and know more about the board than I do."
Citing his legislative work, she supported MacIntyre in trustees' first straw poll after interviews. Only trustee Gordon Klasna supported Gesuale, citing his focus on connecting funding to student success, and he voted with the board in formally approving MacIntyre.
MacIntyre will serve until May 2018, when the seat will be up for grabs in the spring school election.
Both applicants came from business backgrounds and emphasized their financial acumen as well as consensus building.
"I've been on the board in very difficult times, and I've been on the board when it operated very smoothly," Gesuale said. "I would say the latter is much more preferable."
Gesuale served on the board from 2001-2004 and 2007-2010, a tenure that included a contentious teachers strike. A question asked of both candidates was what role unions should play in district operations. The district has upcoming negotiations with the teachers and classified employees unions this spring.
"You have to include them in everything that you do — almost everything that you do," MacIntyre said. "You can't put them in a box and say, 'well, we're gonna have to negotiate with them, so let's keep them at arm's length.'"
Gesuale said that unions play a role in district planning, especially in committees, but added "they also have an adversarial role with the district ... they have an obligation to represent their employees in difficult situations."
Trustee Joe Raffiani noted that Gesuale and MacIntyre seemed most tied to different groups; MacIntyre connected with the wider business community, while Gesuale connected with more community members that were passionately invested in schools, like parents.
"We need passion," he said. But he ultimately sided with MacIntyre.
Trustee Joe Oravecz asked each candidate to pick a recent board decision they supported and one they opposed. Neither picked a decision they opposed, though Gesuale voiced opposition to a process used for changes to how high school grade point averages were compiled.
He cited moving sixth-graders to middle schools as a good move.
"I really think that was the only path forward," he said.
MacIntyre focused on the 2013 bond passage.
"When we'd first talk about $122 million, you'd take a big gulp and say, 'oh my gosh,'" he said.
MacIntyre told trustees that his leadership style was dominated by listening.
"You have to learn to be a facilitator," he said.
Three other seats up for election this May will be filled by the lone applicants, incumbents Tanya Ludwig and Janna Hafer plus newcomer Russ Hall, who will replace Layton. Since the races are uncontested they won't be on ballots.