Brian Kelly got his first taste of public service in education as the student body president at the Oregon Institute of Technology in 1982.
He lobbied the Oregon State Legislature for increased funding for higher education to benefit the Klamath Falls college and others across the state. Little did he know that the experience would be the first of many with public service in education.
Kelly, 55, is opposing education veteran Bill Kennedy for the District 1 Steamboat Springs School Board seat. They're vying for the seat being vacated by John DeVincentis, who is not running for re-election. District 3 representative Denise Connelly is running unopposed to keep her seat.
In 1993, Kelly was a member of the original half-cent sales tax committee. Kelly served twice on the Education Fund Board. He helped the school district broker a deal for a 35-acre site west of Steamboat, where a school could be built with assistance from the planned Steamboat 700 development. And Kelly was twice named a district Friend of Education, in 1993 and 1995.
If you know Kelly, or have heard him speak at candidate forums, you've probably heard him use the phrase, "All roads lead back to Steamboat."
The Philadelphia native's love for the outdoors was bred at a young age. His family first visited Colorado in 1965, and he first visited Steamboat a few years later. After graduating from high school in 1972, he headed west with his brother, and the two began building a house on Laurel Lane.
Kelly said he was never far from Steamboat during his time at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He hitchhiked here on the weekends to teach youth skiing in winter and lived in the house he helped build in summer.
He graduated from CU in 1976 with a degree in geography and two years later began attending the Oregon Institute of Technology to get a surveying degree. That's where he first got involved with education issues.
"I was just interested in the impact you could have organizing people and moving them in a direction toward a common goal," he said.
In the mid-1980s, Kelly worked as a surveyor across the West and in Steamboat, if there was work. At that time, he said, you "could take a nap in the middle of Highway 40."
He returned full time in 1989 and opened BTK Surveying, the business he operates today. Kelly said Steamboat, unlike some other Colorado mountain towns, was a community that happened to have a ski resort, the opposite of other places he'd lived.
As a member of the city's Planning Commission in 1993, Kennedy learned about the problem with the K-12 "funding crisis." He said funding was dropping and class sizes were ballooning, so he shifted his focus.
With encouragement from his wife, Judy, and help from other community members, Kelly helped create the half-cent sales tax committee.
"It was just like, 'We've got to do something,'" he said. "We needed to develop a source of funding outside state revenue."
Kelly worked with the School Board to identify its needs and the City Council to get the sales tax on a ballot. After voters approved it, he helped write the bylaws for the Education Fund Board, the group that recommends how the district spends revenue from the tax. It has generated $31 million for the district.
Bob Harris, who at the time was principal of Steamboat Springs Middle School, let the half-cent sales tax committee use the gymnasium for one of its first meetings. He said Kelly's hard work helped pass the tax, which then helped the district buy computers.
In his more than 10 years on the School Board, Bud Romberg said he was most proud of the passage of the half-cent sales tax, which he called a "godsend" for the district. He said it took many people and a lot of energy to get it passed, but Kelly was "instrumental" and one of the leaders who got it done.
"He's had a longtime relationship with the school district, which has been very positive over the years," Romberg said. "He has had a longtime interest promoting excellence in the school district."
Kelly had two stints on the Fund Board. After a 1995 bond issue to buy a site for a school failed, he worked with the district to buy land west of Steamboat for a future K-8 school. It is slated to receive funding as part of a deal with the developers of Steamboat 700.
Never an educator
Unlike his opponent, Bill Kennedy, who has 39 years of experience in education, Kelly has never been an educator. With his experience as a civic volunteer in Steamboat, Kelly doesn't see that as a problem.
"If you've been in education your whole life, you just have that view," he said. "You may not have that broader view of the entire community. I've raised two kids in this district (stepdaughter Samantha, a 2003 Steamboat graduate, and Blake, a sophomore). : I have a clear understanding of this school district and this community - what it's all about."
Kelly said the biggest issue facing the district is funding, with the state's financial struggles and the likelihood that K-12 money will be cut.
He said the biggest challenge for the district would be setting priorities, based on feedback from the community and teachers about what's most important to preserve. Kelly said his familiarity with the community would be an asset.
"It's not going to be fun, don't get me wrong," he said about dealing with tight budgets. "This isn't a fun thing. Like anything else, there's going to be some things you have to live without."