West Bonner put on notice to comply with Idaho law

The State Board of Education put West Bonner trustees on notice to comply with state laws, according to a public record obtained by Idaho Education News.

While the State Board mentioned some possible repercussions, the message was unequivocal: It has direct interest in ensuring that local districts and their elected leaders follow Idaho law. One repercussion could involve the Idaho State Police not allowing their buses to transport kids, if they remain improperly inspected; another would be the loss of federal funds.

Branden Durst answers questions at a recent town hall meeting.Photo courtesy of Caroline Lobsinger, The Bonner County Daily Bee

But the more pressing problem lies with their newly hired superintendent, Branden Durst.

Trustees are now facing a deadline to correct the months-long controversy over Durst’s superintendent endorsement. The board selected Durst in June without the endorsement, with the understanding that he would lead the district with a State Board emergency provisional certificate.

After weeks on the job navigating a myriad of issues, from proposing to close the middle school and temporarily moving students to the high school, to abruptly replacing the district’s business manager, Durst remains steadfast in his belief that he is prohibited from obtaining that certificate because of a State Board rule.

Through a public records request, EdNews obtained an unequivocal four-page letter written to the school board chairman, issuing an Aug. 23 deadline to “communicate, in writing, its immediate plan to bring the district into compliance with Idaho Code.”

In that letter to chair Keith Rutledge, the State Board said Durst is “unqualified to work in Idaho as a superintendent” because he is not properly certified.

Keith Rutledge is chairman of the school board.

West Bonner won’t apply for his certification because Durst said two superintendents cannot hold emergency provisional certificates at the same time — his and his predecessor, Susan Luckey, who was interim superintendent between March and June. 

However, the State Department of Education has repeatedly refuted Durst’s statement, explaining that according to code, one certificate has no bearing on the other.

By allowing Durst to serve as superintendent, Idaho code “strongly suggests” that the West Bonner School Board is violating Idaho law, the State Board wrote.

“Idaho Code 33-512 addresses local school trustees’ powers and duties. Specifically, Idaho 33-512(13) requires that trustees shall: ‘govern the school district in compliance with state law and rules of the State Board of Education,’” the letter said.

West Bonner Branden Durst Board Letter

In addition, the State Department of Education also outlined four compliance deficiencies West Bonner needs to correct. The following summaries outline the identified problems:

  •  School Finance — the budget submission shows revenues and expenditures do not balance and the summary of board approved budgets for West Bonner does not match its submission.
  • Transportation — School buses require a 60-day inspection by a qualified technician after summer break before transporting students. And they must pass this inspection. The SDE’s iBus system tracks these inspections and those vehicles that have been cleared to safely transport students. If a school bus has not passed its inspection, it is not cleared to operate; and if the SDE becomes aware of uninspected school buses transporting students, it is obligated to contact the Idaho State Police to cease the operation of those buses.
  • Special Education — West Bonner is identified to have significant disproportionality of students with disciplinary action. As such, it is required by federal law to utilize comprehensive coordinated early intervening services to serve children in their district, particularly children in those groups that were significantly overidentified. This is West Bonner’s second consecutive year identified with significant disproportionality for discipline. The State Department is charged with requiring a district to publicly report on the revision of its policies, procedures and practices in order to comply with the law.
  • Federal Programs — the district has not completed its Consolidated State Federal Grant Application and submitted it for SDE approval. Without this approval, it cannot receive any federal funding reimbursement, meaning the district cannot access any federal funds. Additionally, the district’s high school has been identified as a CSI-Up school, based on the Idaho Consolidated Plan, which complies with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The high school is required to follow the CSI-Up guidelines and required activities. SDE staff has previously encouraged the district to assign Title I dollars, so it can also receive CSI-Up specific dollars as an identified school.
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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