Andy Willett, School Board Chair

Andy Willet

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A Bozeman School Board member with more than nine years of experience is resigning from the board after moving out of the school district, which makes him ineligible to serve as a trustee.

Andy Willett, who is the third-longest-serving member on the board, submitted his letter of resignation to the district Wednesday.

Since school board members are required to live in the district they serve, his resignation will be accepted at Monday’s school board meeting where the board will also vote to approve the process to fill the vacant trustee position.

Willett said he moved in August 2020 but hadn’t realized he was no longer in the Bozeman School District until he received a ballot from Monforton School District for May’s school district elections.

The end of Willett’s current term is May 2022, marking 10 years as a trustee. Willett also served four years as board chair.

“I think the board’s in a great position right now. I think the leadership is strong,” Willett said.

People interested in filling the open position can submit an application to the district. The board plans to hold candidate interviews at its June 14 meeting and will vote to pick a trustee at that meeting, said Mike Waterman, the district’s business services director.

The appointed candidate will serve until the next election in May 2022.

The last time a trustee was appointed to the board after a vacancy was Greg Neil in 2017.

When a board member moves out of the district, their seat becomes vacant under state law, according to Waterman. The district was notified of the move in late April when Willett realized he was out of district, he said.

After a review of previous meetings, Waterman said Willett’s move didn’t have any implications to past school board decisions.

“We didn’t have any one-vote decisions where his vote was the one that would have swayed it to the decision it was,” he said.

In an interview Thursday, Willett said there would always be unfinished business no matter when he decided to step back but he had hoped to finish the Bozeman High School renovations and the upcoming search for a new superintendent.

Willett will continue serving on a committee reviewing the superintendent job description, leadership profile and contract. He said he does wish the board had structured the contact for previous superintendent Bob Connors differently and that experience will be important moving forward.

Willett said school finance became a passion of his during his time with the board and that he is proud of the work the district did in timing bond elections and school construction to minimize impact to the taxpayer.

During his time as a trustee, Willett has seen the district grow into two new buildings and two remodels. He was on the initial design committee for the Gallatin High School and said being a part of that from start to finish has been “a phenomenal project to see come together and see all the people that have been involved in that.”

One of his proudest projects was the pre-kindergarten program, Running Start, which was originally funded through grants. The initial class of students is now in fourth grade, he said.

“We’re seeing under-resourced kids, that achievement gap dramatically closed,” he said. “… I think pre-K is so vitally important.”

While discussion around how best to start the 2020 school year was divisive, Willett said the board was able to work through it. In the past few months, he’s seen a sense of normalcy return to the schools and communication improve throughout the district.

“I feel so good about central office right now,” he said. “… They are a strong group and seeing the internal working of that gives me a lot of encouragement for where our top leadership is.”

In the past year, Willett said, it’s become disheartening to see how the school board has become politicized.

“There are political issues with teachers and kids but we’re at this high level policy issue of just teaching kids and doing the best for the taxpayers so it’s not a political position, which is the reason you don’t run on party lines,” he said.

Willett, whose dad was a school administrator and mom was a grade school teacher for 42 years, will continue to be involved in the Bozeman School District community, including coaching or volunteer committee work.

“I just like being involved in the public schools. It’s the greatest equalizer,” Willett said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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