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Billings school board selects new trustee

santala, roger.png
Posted at 7:11 PM, Jan 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-18 08:04:30-05

Update 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

The Billings School Board selected Roger Santala, a Billings Clinic doctor, to fill its vacant seat.

The vote Tuesday night was 6-1.

Santala will replace Mike Leo, who resigned in November. He will fill the remainder of Leo's term, which ends in May.

First Report

BILLINGS - A seat on the Billings school board is up for grabs.

Four candidates are vying to replace Mike Leo, who resigned in November.

The Billings Public Schools board will look to fill the position at a special meeting that started at 5:30 Tuesday night.

Leo's term is up in May, so the person serving will be there for four months before the election.

Serving on a school board is far from an easy job, and some board meetings in Billings over the last year have grown loud and contentious, in part because of debates over mask mandates in schools and the graduation of Billings special-needs student.

And now the board is looking forward to filling the open seat.

"After the two years that we had with COVID and the response from several folks in the community to the masking, that's piqued a lot of people's interest," said Scott McCulloch, board chair.

McCulloch points to other issues that may have drawn four applicants.

"Specifically when you have challenges like enlarging the career and technical ad program," McCulloch said. "We have redistricting that we're undergoing. We're looking at a new strategic plan and certainly the hiring of a new superintendent is a huge deal."

He points to the retirement of Superintendent Greg Upham and the search for his replacement.

McCulloch knows what the four candidates now vying for the seat are experiencing.

He was chosen as a replacement trustee in 2018 when a board member unexpectedly died.

"It's a little different in that you are on the hot seat and expected to come up with answers that make you attractive to the board," McCulloch said. "So rather than meeting voters out on the street and campaigning, you are politicking with school boards."

Four people have applied for the open trustee position:

  • Ann Lewis is a massage therapist who has a child in the district.
  • Clementine Lindley owns a yoga studio on the west end.
  • Andrea Nemitz owns and operates a salon in Billings.
  • Roger Santala is a doctor at Billings Clinic who currently practices one day a week.

The board is expected to select one of them as a trustee and that person will represent zone six until an election can be held in May.

"We want to get somebody on the board now so we can make some fairly significant progress on the big issues," McCulloch said.

Billings school board to fill trustee vacancy