The West Bonner School District #83 Board of Trustees selected Branden Durst, a senior analyst of education policy research for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, as its next superintendent. (Courtesy of the West Bonner School District)
This story was originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on June 12, 2023.
Two trustees unceremoniously exited a chaotic special meeting held Monday to debate Branden Durst’s draft contract to become West Bonner superintendent.
Trustees Troy Reinbold and Susan Brown walked out of the meeting without comment when audience members were yelling at board members regarding Durst’s background, particularly allegations of child abuse.
The remaining three trustees (a quorum) completed a new draft of Durst’s contract addendum — one that struck the most unusual line items from the first draft, such as free school meals, a vehicle, a housing allowance, legal counsel for Durst’s wife, and a required supermajority to terminate the contract. The new draft also clarified that Durst’s contract would be null and void if he does not obtain an emergency provisional certificate to act as superintendent.
Trustees were penciling in their edits and will type up a new draft and post it online sometime before Wednesday afternoon, which is when they plan to meet in another special meeting. At that time, they will discuss and potentially approve the new draft of the contract, and might also reopen voting in order to select Susan Luckey as superintendent instead of Durst.
Luckey, a longtime administrator in the district and current interim, was a finalist for the superintendent job but trustees selected Durst instead on a recent 3-2 vote. Durst, a senior analyst of education policy research for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is a former Republican state superintendent candidate, Democratic state lawmaker and a controversial political figure.
The suggestion to vote again on Luckey came from someone in the audience.
Neither Durst nor Luckey have the required qualifications to become a superintendent, so would have to pursue an emergency certification or alternate authorization to hold the role — an issue that drove much of the contention Monday.
West Bonner trustees, public engaged in unruly dialogue during meeting
By the time trustees Reinbold and Brown left the boardroom, audience members had been unruly for hours already, peppering board discussions about Durst’s draft contract with frequent yells, insults, comments, and questions — that largely went without admonishment.
Trustees and audience members engaged in dialogue throughout the meeting, even though public comment was disallowed. Audience members at times made suggestions and answered trustee questions, and at other times swore, yelled and called out insults.
“Right now, we have our kids eating dinner in this boardroom so we can babysit your guys’ decisions,” one audience member called out.
Audience members largely voiced frustration with and a lack of trust in the board.
At one point at the beginning of the meeting, Board Chair Keith Rutledge stood up and called for the meeting’s end due to the crowd’s unruliness, but eventually sat down and moved on with the meeting.
Trustees never managed to control or quell audience interjections from then on.
The most significant changes the trustees made to the contract included the following:
- They reduced his vacation days from 20 to 15.
- They opted to provide flat mileage reimbursement rather than a vehicle.
- They cut a provision that would have provided a “term-life insurance policy with the pay-off benefit equal to the base annual salary of the Superintendent.”
- They cut an item that would have required the district to pay half of the superintendent’s monthly PERSI contribution.
- They struck an item that would have allowed Durst to work remotely during non-instructional periods, such as school breaks.
- They got rid of the $500 monthly housing allowance.
- They struck the $2,000 reimbursement for moving costs.
- They cut the line item that would’ve allowed Durst to eat free meals at any school.
- They struck a provision that would’ve required the district to provide legal counsel for Durst’s wife.
- They added that, if Durst’s certification or designation to act as superintendent is not applied for by June 21 and approved by the State Board, his contract would become null and void.
- They struck the requirement for a supermajority of trustees to terminate the contract.
Trustees spent more than three hours discussing and making changes to the second draft of the addendum. More than 200 viewers watched the meeting online, and even that space became disorderly — at least one commenter was banned.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.