West Bonner community expresses support for interim superintendent

PRIEST RIVER — It’s no secret who the West Bonner community wants to become the next superintendent  — and he’s a familiar face.

“They want us to clone Joe Kren and that says a lot about his leadership,” said Shar Johns, a McPherson & Jacobson consultant. The Nebraska-based company is overseeing the formal search process.

Joe Kren

The mention of Kren’s name drew loud applause during Wednesday’s regular school board meeting. Kren confirmed to Idaho Education News by email that he is not applying for the position. 

Kren, who came out of retirement, was appointed interim superintendent in October of 2023, when the previous school leader, Branden Durst, resigned after a tumultuous four-month stint running the rural, North Idaho district. 

Kren’s steady leadership helped the staff and school board find their footing when they most needed it — amid low morale, disorganization and polarization.

This month, Johns gathered community input by interviewing nine groups at several locations around the district. Trustees will receive an executive summary and full report later this month but she previewed her findings for the board.

“They want somebody who will take the time to listen and develop a deep understanding of your values and philosophies. A leader who is able to bring the community together,” Johns said.

The right candidate should have knowledge of Idaho school funding and experience advocating at the state level, because the district is facing a myriad of challenges, including an unfinished 2023 annual audit causing West Bonner to be “completely out of compliance,” Kren reported.

The following are some of the challenges Johns listed:

  • The district encompasses a large geographic area that creates busing challenges.
  • People are moving to the area who don’t share the same opinion about public education or philosophies about instructional practices.
  • There is aging infrastructure, a need for affordable housing and staffing issues.

Patrons want “someone who is open and honest, and someone who shows solid judgment but is open to new ideas and has a willingness to listen and bring people together,” she said.

The closing date for applications is April 24. Finalists will be selected May 15 and formal interviews will be conducted June 3. The board plans to select the superintendent in June.

Forensic audit findings are finalized 

Trustees unanimously voted to accept the final version of a forensic audit, which cost the district $55,000. The investigation, conducted by Eide Bailly, covered five years and $21 million of financial records. It found no financial misconduct issues.

Trustees sought the audit on advice from Durst, and amid allegations of impropriety from the community.

“Were there any documents that were withheld?” asked Margaret Hall, board chairperson.

“No, nothing was being manipulated,” responded Brandon Waldren, a senior manager in fraud and forensics.

Trustee Paul Turco, appointed after the recall election, has been quick to highlight the audit’s exonerative findings. He spoke fervently Wednesday about the lack of accountability in the local media.

“What I didn’t see were any letters of apology from individuals that spread misinformation about our district, and our current and past employees. I encourage responsibility and accountability — admit to your mistakes, apologize and begin on the path forward,” Turco told the audience. 

“With the election day quickly approaching, I would like to caution local voters to choose your source of information carefully. The credibility of the rumor spreaders, finger pointers, problem makers, no-solution providers and quitters should not be trusted,” he added.

The district’s 2023 audit is unfinished

Idaho code requires annual independent financial audits of school districts, due each November.

The process of completing the forensic audit stopped work on the district’s annual 2023 audit, and now West Bonner is out of compliance.

Kren secured a firm to complete the audit this summer that will cost between $68,000-$89,000.

“That’s a bit of sticker shock but we need it done,” said Hall.

The state’s plan of improvement requires the district to provide evidence of an ongoing audit for 2023 and proof that this year’s audit will be done, too. 

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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