State Board blocks Durst’s emergency path to superintendency

(UPDATED, Thursday, 7:10 p.m., with a comment from acting board chair Margaret Hall.)

The State Board of Education ended Branden Durst’s quest to become the certified superintendent of the West Bonner School District, declining to consider his application for an emergency provisional administrator’s certificate. 

In a letter to a school district official, State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman said, “There is no pathway for Mr. Durst to obtain the legally required certification to serve as the West Bonner County School District superintendent” because he has not met all the five requirements to do so. 

Freeman said the State Board does not have the “legal authority to grant such certificates” to administrators — even though it has done so three times since 2015.

Durst responded Thursday in an email to Idaho Education News.

“The State Board of Education curiously decided it no longer had authority to grant emergency provisional certificates to any administrator applicant. This decision was not limited to me. However, the timing is particularly strange,” Durst wrote. 

State Board officials recently realized their limitations after conducting a “legal review” prompted by “the decision by West Bonner trustees to hire an uncertified individual to serve as superintendent this summer.”

But when West Bonner trustees hired Teresa “Susie” Luckey as interim superintendent in March, she also lacked the requirements to do so, including not completing the needed coursework or degree. Yet, the State Board approved her emergency certification — valid from September 2022 to August 2023 — at its June meeting. 

“When did the State Board of Education come upon this new knowledge and interpretation? Certainly, as the State Board acknowledged, they have granted them in the past. In fact, they granted one just a couple of months ago for an applicant in the West Bonner County School District. Further, it seems odd that the State Board would have not rescinded an emergency certification that it knew it didn’t have the authority to grant, if that is their new position,” Durst wrote.

Mike Keckler, spokesman for the State Board, said Durst’s situation was “unique” because he does not hold “any sort of endorsement or certification,” whereas Luckey held teacher and principal endorsements. 

The other two emergency administrative applications approved since 2015 were for principal positions, Keckler said. 

Going forward, the State Board will no longer consider any emergency applications for administrative positions, Keckler said. That comes after a new understanding of its legal abilities, as spelled out in Idaho administrative code ( Board members will only consider emergency provisional certifications for teachers.

“This leads to a simple conclusion: this was a discriminatory act by a board run by those with a political axe to grind. They will be held accountable for their discriminatory actions,” Durst said. To read his full response, use this link.

Wednesday’s decision is the latest development after months of tumult — including raucous meetings, a recall of two trustees and a restraining order against the recalled trustees — following Durst’s selection as superintendent. The State Board’s decision means West Bonner does not have an official superintendent, and the State Department of Education will not provide funds for Durst’s salary — the district will have to cover it. While Durst can’t be the superintendent, he may be able to serve the district in another capacity or under another title.

West Bonner had delayed Durst’s application for weeks due to a disagreement over interpretation of state law. But trustees acquiesced last month after the State Board told them in an Aug. 16 letter to comply with state law and file the application.

Margaret Hall, acting chair of the school board, wrote in an email Thursday night that both letters from the State Board — the August compliance letter and Wednesday’s letter — “are taken seriously. Review of these two letters are to be included on the Board’s September monthly meeting agenda, which is scheduled for Sept. 20. Any other statement at this time would be premature and inappropriate.”

The meeting will be the first without recalled trustees Susan Brown and Keith Rutledge.

EdNews Data Analyst Randy Schrader and reporter Darren Svan contributed to this report. 

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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