Branden Durst sues West Bonner for ‘breach of contract’

Former West Bonner superintendent Branden Durst has sued the school district over the board of trustees’ termination of his contract last fall. 

Durst appeared to resign from the district in September when he released a letter announcing his “decision to seek an amicable and fair exit from my role as superintendent.” And a month later, the West Bonner school board voted to accept his resignation. 

But the school board “intentionally misrepresented the nature and purpose” of the letter, said Durst’s February legal complaint, which asked for more than $100,000 in damages along with attorney fees. Durst claimed the district breached his contract and violated “an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” 

West Bonner denied the allegations, and both parties demanded a jury trial, which has yet to be scheduled. 

Durst’s case against West Bonner could be one of two lawsuits stemming from his nearly four months as leader of the embattled district in North Idaho. Also in February, he filed a tort claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — notifying the State Board of Education and Department of Education that he intends to sue the agencies for $1.25 million after they denied him an emergency waiver to serve as superintendent. 

Lawsuit centers on ‘exit’ letter

In his complaint against West Bonner, Durst offered two pieces of evidence: his one-year contract worth $110,000 and the letter announcing he sought an “exit” from the role. 

West Bonner hired Durst in late June even though he hadn’t completed all five requirements for a State Board superintendent’s endorsement. West Bonner trustees hired Durst with the understanding that he would obtain an emergency certification.

The State Board denied that request on Sept. 13 — after a legal review showed the board doesn’t have the authority to waive the endorsement requirements for a superintendent. On Sept. 25, Durst released the letter, which was addressed to the West Bonner community.

“I am announcing my decision to seek an amicable and fair exit from my role as the superintendent of the West Bonner County School District,” Durst wrote before listing his accomplishments and bemoaning his “naysayers.”

“I believe it is necessary for me to step aside as superintendent,” he wrote. “While my last day as superintendent will be up to the board, until then, I will continue to work diligently to uphold the district’s mission and support students’ success.” 

Several media outlets, including Idaho Education News, reported that Durst had resigned based on the letter. On Oct. 25, the West Bonner school board voted to accept Durst’s resignation and appoint a temporary superintendent to replace him.

But the letter wasn’t a resignation, and the district breached his contract by terminating it, according to Durst’s complaint. He also accused “certain members” of the school board of publicly making “false claims about Durst being untruthful” and creating a “hostile work environment.” 

“In order to address some of these issues, Durst wrote a letter to the board,” the complaint says. “The board intentionally misrepresented the nature and purpose of such a written correspondence and purported to treat the written correspondence as a letter of resignation from Durst.”

District denies allegations

Durst completed about one-third of his contract. He was paid $55,060.87 between June and December, according to payroll records obtained by Idaho Education News through a public records request. That included $14,208.31 for “extra days” in November and December, after the school board terminated his contract, the pay stubs show. 

Durst declined to comment on the lawsuit, which he filed in the First Judicial District court in Bonner County. “At the advice of my legal representation I am not able to comment on pending litigation,” he said by email. 

West Bonner did not respond to a request for comment. 

But the district denied all of Durst’s accusations in an April response to the court and asked that his complaint be dismissed. Attorneys for the district offered 32 defenses, including that West Bonner is immune from liability per the Idaho Tort Claims Act. 

The Boise-based firm Anderson, Julian and Hull is representing West Bonner. Shep Law Group of Meridian is representing Durst. 

After leaving the school district, Durst unsuccessfully ran for Ada County commissioner as a Republican. He also lost the 2022 Republican primary election for state superintendent, and he was previously a Democratic lawmaker, serving in the Idaho House and Senate. 

It’s unclear whether Durst intends to move forward with a lawsuit against the State Board and Department of Education. A search of court filings did not show that a complaint has been filed. 

Idaho EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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