UPDATED: West Bonner trustees mum on buyout for former superintendent — a potential open meetings violation

Updated at 3:53 p.m. on June 23rd with information on a Wednesday meeting to consider a superintendent contract. 

West Bonner school trustees agreed Wednesday to pay out the district’s former superintendent, Jackie Branum, who abruptly resigned in March — but they aren’t disclosing the amount of taxpayer dollars they’re siphoning her way.

Idaho Education News filed a public records request for the separation agreement between Branum and the district Thursday, and district officials responded with a request for a 10-day extension — the maximum timeframe allowed under state law. EdNews will provide updates once the documents become available. 

Trustees discussed the separation agreement in a closed executive session Wednesday, before publicly voting to “accept the amount” — without mentioning the exact figure and leaving taxpayers in the dark.

When going into the closed session, trustees cited Idaho law that allows for private meetings to discuss the “legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated.”

However, Idaho code also says “no executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision.”

Trustees apparently decided on the payout amount in the closed session, since the amount wasn’t discussed or disclosed in public — which could constitute a violation of Idaho’s open meetings law. Trustees also kept the rest of the separation agreement’s details secret, publicly approving an arrangement district patrons were not privy to.  

EdNews made a formal complaint on Thursday to Bonner County Prosecutor Louis E. Marshall, asking that the office consider if the West Bonner board violated Idaho’s open meeting laws. The prosecutor’s office has not yet responded.

Also on Thursday, trustees announced a plan to meet Monday to consider retaining independent counsel for “general purposes.” They had discussed doing so on Wednesday to help with a contract for superintendent candidate Branden Durst and a forensic audit.

Trustees will meet Wednesday to consider Durst’s contract and addendum.

Branum speaks about leaving the district and hiring a lawyer to recoup her unpaid vacation payout

In a Thursday email to EdNews, Branum disclosed new details about her departure from the district, and the agreement reached Wednesday.  Branum said it wasn’t a “separation agreement” at all, but “a simple request to follow the law.” According to her, the district “illegally withheld” her accrued vacation payout (in the amount of $7,574.80) from her last paycheck.

“It continued to be withheld even after many written attempts on my behalf,” she wrote in a social media comment that she shared with EdNews. “Thus, I had to hire an attorney.”

Branum also asked the district to pay her attorney fees, which pushed the amount to $8,774.80.

Branum said she left the district because “even with my 25 years of successful experience in the field of education … I was convinced that I would not be successful, nor supported in helping to assert the change needed at WBCSD.”

For now, she said she’s cleaning vacation rentals and enjoying time with her husband and pets.

Besides a March 20 Facebook message posted by Interim Superintendent Susie Luckey, district leaders have been mum about the circumstances behind Branum’s departure. 

“I realize that this sudden change in leadership can lead to concern regarding the future of our district,” Luckey wrote on Facebook at the time. “If you have a question or concern, find out the facts: One of the things that can really hurt unity in a community is when the rumor mill gets started, and inaccurate and/or exaggerated information is spread throughout the community.”

A district marked by leadership turnovers

In the past year, the district has been mired in top-level turnover, Board Chair Keith Rutledge acknowledged in a newsletter this week: “The Board understands that in the last 12 months the WBCSD has gone through some very challenging times.”

In addition to three new trustees, the district has had three superintendents, and ultimately could hire a fourth:

  • Superintendent Paul Anselmo took a job as superintendent for Kamiah School District. 
  • Branum replaced him last summer before resigning suddenly in mid-March. 
  • Susie Luckey, a longtime administrator in the district, was named interim superintendent. 
  • On June 7, Branden Durst was selected to become the next superintendent — but the choice has been followed by controversy and uncertainty over whether the former legislator and state superintendent’s candidate would be granted the needed emergency provisional certificate to take the job. 
Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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