PRIEST RIVER – Dozens of anxious faces looked relieved when West Bonner trustee Troy Reinbold joined the board meeting by cellphone while parked along the highway.
His voice was audible but punctuated with heavy background noise. “I’m sitting along the highway soaking wet and covered in mud and trying to get home,” Reinbold said to his two fellow trustees, who were seated at the front ready to start their school board meeting.
Trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton agreed to shorten the agenda at Reinbold’s request. Although they met for just 28 minutes, they managed to declare vacancies for zones two and four. The five-person board is down to three after August’s recall election removed two trustees. The board can now begin the process of appointing new trustees to serve out those terms.
Reinbold’s attendance was in question because West Bonner leader Branden Durst posted on social media earlier Wednesday that Reinbold was unable to attend, again. Despite the warning, about 60 people packed into the high school cafeteria. Reinbold had missed last week’s meeting, and without him, the three-person board could not legally meet without a quorum.
The uncertainty about Reinbold sparked tension and anxiety, because his absence would have rendered the board unable to conduct district business, like hiring new employees, paying contractor invoices or filling the board vacancies.
Trustee Hall, who was elected interim chair, apologized to the audience for rushing through the truncated agenda but apparently there was no choice.
Prior to the start, Hall, Barton and Durst abruptly left the room to call Reinbold. Hall and Barton confirmed after the meeting that Reinbold put a condition on his attendance: the executive session to discuss and possibly rule on Durst’s intention to step down as superintendent had to be removed from the agenda.
Reinbold wanted the board to focus on the consent agenda, and “I’m appreciative” that the board was able to declare those vacancies, Hall said after the meeting.
Applications for those interested in serving on the board are due by 5 p.m. on Oct. 13. They expect to conduct interviews at the Oct. 19 regular board meeting, and that applicant review process will take place in open meeting.
The social media post
At the conclusion of last week’s canceled meeting, patrons complained to Durst that he withheld the information about Reinbold’s absence and wasted their time. So he committed on Wednesday to sharing information earlier so those who drive in from a distance would be aware, he told EdNews.
“In respect for everyone’s time I thought it appropriate to communicate this in advance of the meeting,” Durst said before the meeting Wednesday. “As of Monday morning he let me know he would not be able to attend. I have not received any subsequent communication from him that indicates anything different.”
The impact on families
Some parents say the recall election and the drumbeat of school board turmoil is affecting their children and their teachers.
“It would be naive to say it doesn’t affect them. You can see it on the faces of teachers and parents,” said Paul Turco, who has two kids in West Bonner schools. “You try to shelter and protect them but there’s only so much you can do.
“I feel like the whole summer was stolen.”
Several parents expressed their frustration at the start of a fifth grade football game.
“It’s very upsetting. I haven’t slept much since it started,” said Gayla Turner, a grandmother of six West Bonner students as she stood under a canopy while rain drenched the field and players.
Durst is hopeful education is not being disrupted.
“I hope they are working hard to the best of their ability, even with some uncertainty,” he said from his office in downtown Priest River. “I hope the students are being left out of the adults’ problems.”