West Bonner board finds common ground with community concerns

PRIEST RIVER — The verbal fireworks and tension commonplace at West Bonner School Board meetings did not surface Wednesday evening, as trustees acted in concert with their community’s request to dismiss a plan to temporarily close the junior high school.

Two days after superintendent Branden Durst’s town hall event about Priest River Junior High School, the board’s action reflected concerns raised by parents. Durst suggested closing the school to replace an aging boiler, while temporarily moving seventh and eighth grade students to the high school during construction.

His idea was met with strong opposition Monday evening. They asked Durst and the board to consider alternatives to closing the school. Others were uncomfortable with having seventh and eighth grade girls intermingling with upperclassmen. And some were distrustful of trustees because of recent disagreements with board decisions.

“I just want to make sure that I say publicly how much I appreciate everyone’s engagement on Monday night. We heard you and we’re acting accordingly. But also to recognize that as trustee (Margaret) Hall said, we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. We need to start facing this together, so as a community we can get around it,” Durst said.

Vice chair Susan Brown added, “Everyone would agree that we can’t have students in this school when it’s actually being renovated, for a multitude of issues.  But we do have time to figure out a good plan on how to keep those kids in school but in a safe location.”

Trustee Carlyn Barton said the issue should be put aside for the moment so that it’s planned and approved by the community.

Trustees took no action regarding the junior high school’s closure.

Trustee Hall suggested they consider a capital campaign drive to seriously look at funding options. “Maybe that’s what we get behind,” she said.

New special education director will work as hybrid-remote employee

The district appointed Courtney McKnight as special education director. Since 2021, she served as the special education administrator for Texas Tech University, according to the district. Her employment is described as “hybrid remote.”

It’s unclear where she will live while employed by West Bonner. EdNews was unable to reach anyone at the district by phone or email Thursday.

“We tried to hire somebody local here. We waited for a month and we didn’t have any applicants at all. And given the legal responsibility that we have to be able to have somebody who’s highly qualified in that role, we then expanded it to become a hybrid-remote position,” Durst explained to the board.

McKnight will be on campus at least once per quarter for a week, and if there is an emergency, she will quickly travel to Priest River, Durst told trustees.

“And really that was the best we could do to be able to find somebody who was highly qualified, because I could not start the school year without that position being filled. And so that was the approach that we had to take to be able to make sure that we had somebody who could provide the services and provide the support to our staff,” he said.

The district also hired the following employees:

  • Ryan Curruth – operations director, head athletic director, head soccer coach.
  • Alex Zepeda – high school athletic director.
  • Loretta Glazier – junior high principal.
  • Jordan Munar – 6th grade teacher.
  • Topanga Wallis – 5th grade teacher.
  • Peggy Loutzenhiser – district curriculum director.

Two former employees file lawsuit against West Bonner

Steffie Pavey and Shawna MacDonald filed a lawsuit against West Bonner School District in the U.S . District Court for the District of Idaho for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. Pavey is the district’s former business manager and MacDonald worked in payroll.

Pavey and MacDonald request a jury trial, unpaid wages, and compensatory and punitive damages.

West Bonner failed to pay Pavey and MacDonald minimum wage for all hours worked through their termination of employment, according to the civil case document.

“Defendant’s violations of the FLSA have significantly damaged Plaintiff Pavey and Plaintiff MacDonald and entitled them to recover the total amount of their unpaid wages, an additional equal amount of liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs,” the document states.

According to the document, both staff members were let go in July by Durst, because he wrote in an email that they were no longer employees of the district. Their employment agreements had ended in June and they were therefore working as independent contractors.

“You do not currently have a signed contract with the district, therefore you are not an employee of the district, therefore FMLA does not apply,” Durst wrote in that email.

The civil case was filed Aug. 7 by the plaintiffs’ attorney Fisher & Hudson, PLLC of Boise.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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