Conway High School Ronny Willhite, Creative Commons

Almost a year since voters ousted two members of the Conway School Board, residents are deciding whether to re-elect two incumbents, one who voted to ban books and target transgender students; the other, a newer member who has avoided further politicizing the board.

In Zone 4, longtime board member Trip Leach, chief financial officer at New Life Church in Conway, is being challenged by Ruthann Curry Browne, a teaching artist and retired teacher.


In Zone 5, incumbent Trey Geier, a roofing contractor and Army combat veteran, is seeking a full term after serving less than a year on the seven-member board. Challenging Geier is Bill Milburn, a retired Conway police major and former board member. Milburn was appointed to fill a  board vacancy in 2022 before losing an election to Geier last year.

Early voting started Tuesday. Election Day is March 5.


Leach, the incumbent in the Zone 4 race, did not respond to emailed questions.

His challenger, Curry Browne, described the past board’s actions on cultural issues as “destructive and divisive” ones that “took us off-track from the mission of public education.”


“It was disheartening to see the willingness of the board to enter into the culture wars at the expense of giving our students the absolute BEST education they can get,” Curry Browne said.

In her email interview with the Arkansas Times, Curry Browne praised the board’s shift away from divisive cultural issues.


“We have come a long way in the last year recovering from the missteps of the previous school board that took its attention away from its mission as a public school — that is, a socially just education system that prepares ALL students to succeed in this diverse world,” she said.

She also said she and Leach “have a chasm between us when it comes to the LEARNS Act. He has stated publicly that he has no problem with it.”


Curry Browne complained about the state’s LEARNS voucher program which provides public funds for families to enroll children in private schools and homeschooling. She also noted that while LEARNS increased the minimum teacher salary in Arkansas, “It does not properly compensate more experienced and educated teachers, which means recruitment to our district will become exceedingly difficult and costly.”

Leach told the Conway Log Cabin Democrat recently that he “would love to see us increase teacher pay for our experienced teachers. The LEARNS act helped get our new teachers’ pay to a good place, but it left little room for us to increase our existing teacher staff pay and our paraprofessionals.”


Speaking further with the Conway paper, Leach applauded the LEARNS Act, which he said “affords families more choices when it comes to their child’s education. Competition is a positive thing, as it raises the bar and standards for those involved.”

Leach was among the board members who voted to ban books and restrict transgender students’ access to bathrooms.

The same cultural issues are in contention in the Zone 5 race, where the more conservative candidate, Milburn, hopes to take Geier’s seat.

Milburn once defended a man who condemned transgender students to “death,” later described as “spiritual death,” during a speech at a public school board meeting.


Milburn replied to our request for comment with this: “The same part of me that try’s to always be kind really bristles at being portrayed as a Trans hater. I don’t think I have anything to gain among your readers. .. Sorry but I guess go to print without me.”

Since Geier and Sheila Franklin joined the board last spring, the panel has not banned any additional books or adopted any further policies aimed at policing transgender students. That said, the board also has not rescinded either policy. The state has since passed its own restrictive restroom law. And with only two new members, the seven-member board probably lacks enough votes to revoke the book bans, both dealing with LGBQT+ issues.

Even so, Geier said, “Our board has also not recently been in the national news for the wrong reasons and I truly believe that my voice has aided in this change.

“While I cannot take sole responsibility for the culture shift on the Conway Board, I do believe that the change has been positive for our district and our community,” Geier added in email. “It shows that Conway was ready to focus on education rather than divisiveness.”

Further, Geier, a Sunday school teacher at First United Methodist Church, said, “Teachers don’t want to join a district full of conflict and strife.”

During his time on the board, Milburn was caught up in some of that conflict and strife when he defended a short-lived decision by Superintendent Jeff Collum to order basketball coaches to quit wearing Black History Month T-shirts that displayed the school district’s Wampus Cat logo during games.

“The issue with the T-shirts was not the content and no students were restricted from wearing them,” Milburn said. “The coaching staff wearing anything other than the normal Wampus Cat apparel while coaching a game without talking to the athletic director in advance was the issue.”

The controversy died down after public apologies by the superintendent and others. This year, the school district celebrated Black History Month by posting a similar Wampus Cat logo on Facebook.