Updated on June 29 at 11:36 a.m. with further details on Durst’s contract and an effort to recall Rutledge and Brown.
PRIEST RIVER — Branden Durst’s superintendent contract was approved on a 3-2 vote Wednesday night, finalizing the controversial hire after a series of divisive West Bonner school board meetings.
The board also declared a state of emergency on a 3-2 vote — a step needed in order for Durst to seek an emergency provisional certificate from the State Board of Education.
Both measures were approved after pushback (and nay votes) from Trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton, who also voted against Durst’s hire in early June.
Durst is a former Democratic lawmaker and Republican state superintendent candidate, and is now an analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Durst currently does not have all the qualifications required to become a superintendent, including having worked in a school for four years. However, if the State Board approves an emergency certificate, he would be able to serve in the role, but would not be able to conduct evaluations.
Idaho Transparency Laws
Idaho Education News has filed a formal complaint with the county prosecutor’s office regarding a potential open meetings violation by the West Bonner school board. EdNews has also requested an email sent among West Bonner trustees, and emails sent between trustees and Durst, and is awaiting those public records.
Board Chair Keith Rutledge planned to discuss and vote on Durst’s contract in a closed executive session, until Hall pointed out that the board did not have the needed supermajority approval to go into a closed session.
Hall also advocated for Durst’s contract to be made available to the public via display, since it had not yet been posted online. The contract was projected but was only partially and momentarily within view for online attendees.
Details of Durst’s contract
Durst’s contract has not yet been published or made available online, but the following details were gleaned from the board discussion:
—Salary of $110,000
—Two-year contract, but yearly renewal depends on a superintendent evaluation
—The district will provide legal representation for Durst’s wife on the condition that ICRMP, an insurance program for public entities, would cover those potential legal costs
Board members received hard copies of the contract and most appeared to be reading through the draft for the first time during the meeting.
Hall and Barton pushed for amendments to the contract — that it not be renewed automatically, and that legal coverage only be provided to Durst’s wife if the district’s insurance would cover the expense.
The amended contract passed on a 3-2 vote, with Hall and Barton opposing it.
The board then voted 3-2, with Hall and Barton opposing, to declare a state of emergency.
Barton also read a statement so her reasons for opposition would be clear. She said there was no need for the district to declare a state of emergency because the district has a few fully qualified staff members who could serve as interim superintendents.
Barton reprimanded the board for its lack of transparency and for dividing the community. She said the board has been “in no way open to uniting the board, employees of this district, or this community.”
“The lack of transparency from the leadership of this board is very concerning,” Barton said through tears. “The direction of our board has turned into a fascist dictatorship with an agenda … I’m here to continue to fight for our community as a whole for what is good and right against evil and hidden agendas that will further divide our community.”
After the contract meeting, the board started a meeting on its budget and Durst came out from a back room and took Interim Superintendent Susie Luckey’s place at the board table. The board then debated whether they had approved Durst to start July 1 or immediately. The board chair and vice chair argued that a three-day contract had been implied with the two-year contract that was approved. Durst was then allowed to remain at the table.
Prior to the contract meeting, the agenda had changed at least three times. At one point, it included a “self-cure,” a practice used by boards when they break open meeting laws — but the item was later scrubbed.
The meeting video had more than 900 views. It was unclear how many attended the meeting in person, but patrons have routinely complained that the meeting space is too small.
The contract details: no free meals, vehicle, or housing allowance
Durst’s contract has not been published online, but was projected at Wednesday’s meeting. EdNews asked the board clerk for a copy of the contract Wednesday night, but had not heard back as of Thursday morning.
A patron who attended the meeting in person posted screenshots of the projected contract on a Facebook page. According to those screenshots, here’s what we know about the agreement.
The most unusual line items in the first draft of Durst’s contract, such as a vehicle, housing allowance, free meals, the ability to work remotely during school breaks, and a limit on the board’s ability to terminate the contract, were absent from the contract approved Wednesday night.
Below are some of the items that did appear on the contract:
- 12 days leave for illness, injury, or emergency
- At least the same medical, dental, vision, retirement and benefits as the district provides certificated employees
- Paid membership fees for the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the American Association of School Administrators, and other groups
- 20 days of paid vacation
- Reimbursed for mileage
- $2,000 relocation reimbursement
- The superintendent, with board approval, “may undertake consultative, speaking engagements, writing, lecturing or other professional duties and obligations that do not conflict with his duties as Superintendent”
The language in this section is a bit unclear, but seems to indicate that if Durst fails to obtain an emergency provisional certificate, the board could terminate him.
- The board may “immediately terminate the contract” if the superintendent is required to “obtain and maintain an Idaho Superintendent Certification, or a provisional certification”
Patrons are moving to recall Rutledge and Brown
The Bonner County Daily Bee’s Caroline Lobsinger reports that patrons are working to recall Rutledge and Brown.
Draft petitions were submitted to the Bonner County clerk earlier this month, and signed recall petitions were delivered Tuesday, according to Lobsinger. The clerk is now counting and verifying the signatures.
Clerk Michael Rosedale expects to complete the signature count by Friday afternoon.
If enough signatures are verified, the trustees could resign voluntarily, or would face a recall election on Aug. 29.