West Bonner trustees face a slew of challenges

West Bonner school trustees will tackle persistent financial and leadership obstacles that’s plagued the district for more than a year.

For much of 2023, the North Idaho district struggled with a myriad of issues — superintendent turnover, trustee recall elections`, school board gridlock, declining enrollment and a politically polarized community.

As the school year winds down, the reorganized school board — newcomers Paul Turco, Kathy Nash and Ann Yount joined in January — faces four notable challenges: completing the district’s financial audit, finding a permanent superintendent, deciding whether to run a new levy and fixing a budget shortfall.

At a meeting earlier this month, the board rejected 3-2 a motion by trustee Nash to run a one-year, $1.2 million supplemental levy. Trustees decided that amount would not meet the district’s financial needs.

“They are in the process of making the decision if they are going to ask for a levy,” said Joe Kren, the district’s interim superintendent.

Trustees will take up the issue again during a special meeting Wednesday, March 13. If they choose to run the levy, Kren said, they’ve indicated that it would be on the ballot in May.

“I have five very distinct trustees, which is good. Each one of them represents their constituents as you would expect them to,” Kren said.

Wednesday’s agenda also includes a looming $4.6 million budget shortfall next school year. Trustees will be looking for solutions, chief among them is asking voters to approve a levy request.

“We have a deadline looming and some decisions to be made,” said board chairperson Margaret Hall. “The board needs to speak up as to where it wants to go next.”

Trustees plan to wrap up superintendent search by July 1

The board will consider finalizing a contract with McPherson & Jacobson this week to begin the search process. Trustees want a superintendent hired and the contract completed by July 1. Kren has not decided if he’s going to apply.

“They’re going to start the search immediately and start looking for the right person,” Kren said. “I have not made up my mind whether I will put my name in the ring.”

Accounting errors shut down the audit process

The district’s 2022-23 audit is not done. The firm handling it found accounting errors in the system and stopped working on it. The district was not asked to pay for the partial work.

“They went as far as they could take it and had to disengage with working with us,” Kren said.

“The issue is how to properly do the bookkeeping with regard to rollover from fiscal year 2023 to fiscal year 2024. There were errors made in the accounting system. As a result, there is a variance on the payroll side,” he explained.

While the district searches for an accounting firm to complete it, there is some concern.

“We need to make sure that this will not affect any of our federal funds,” Kren said.

The district anticipates spending up to $65,000 for the forensic audit

Last year, the board approved a phased forensic audit at a time when some in the community accused the district of financial mismanagement. Kren said the new board welcomes its completion, because it will tell them how to improve accounting practices.

The final phase 3 report is due this month.

“We know that we have to improve,” Kren said. “It’s unfortunate that people continue to beat us up on that.”

West Bonner has not had a business manager on staff since late last year. Kren is conducting interviews this week.

“It’s a spider’s web of work,” Kren said. “The staff in the front office move in and out of support wherever they’re able.”

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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