West Bonner wants error corrected before submitting Durst’s application

West Bonner leader Branden Durst is adamant that his emergency provisional certificate application is forthcoming. But at the moment, there’s a problem precluding him from applying. 

West Bonner is not submitting the application due to a State Board of Education procedural error. The State Department of Education and West Bonner don’t agree on how to interpret an Idaho code that governs the certificate process.

According to Durst, the district won’t apply for the provisional certificate until the State Board corrects an application error that occurred with the previous superintendent’s certificate.

“The State Board has acted in contravention to Idaho law,” Durst said during a phone interview. “It’s their responsibility to fix their mistake. I can’t apply for my provisional certificate until they have done their job.” 

On page six of the State Board emergency application, Durst noted a provision that requires a school board to declare an emergency for the superintendent’s position and then record this declaration in official board minutes.

The provision that Durst refers to says the declared emergency will be recorded in the official minutes.

“There is no question that this is what the law says. That didn’t happen for my predecessor,” Durst said.

A longtime administrator, Susan Luckey, served as interim superintendent following the resignation of Jackie Branum in March. The State Board approved Luckey’s provisional certificate in June, according to Scott Graf, communications director for the State Department of Education.

“Idaho Code 33-1203 establishes that provisional certificates can be granted only after emergencies are declared. The code does not specify that one application or certification is or can be dependent upon another,” Graf wrote in a statement Monday.

“As soon as the state board corrects its action, we will proceed accordingly,” Durst said.

Even though the state says Durst is eligible to apply, what if West Bonner stands by its interpretation?

Idaho Code requires administrators to be certified, Graf said. “If an individual holds that position without being certified as a superintendent, there is a case to be made that they would be in violation for that particular code.”

Outside of calling a special meeting, the State Board’s next meeting is on Oct. 18. The provisional certificate application deadline for the October meeting is Aug. 16.

If Durst does apply and the application is not approved, yet he remains superintendent, a “funding reduction” can be imposed for the superintendent’s full salary, said Cina Lackey, director of certification and professional standards.

The emergency certificate is required because Durst did not meet all the requirements to obtain a superintendent endorsement when the district hired him.

Will the district fund sports next year?

Because of the failed two-year $9.4 million supplemental levy in May, Durst and board trustees are facing a budget shortfall that could threaten cherished programs.

“I’m confident that we’ll have a good percentage of the money that we need to be able to operate our extra- and co-curricular activities,” Durst confirmed.

That confidence is predicated on rebuilding the budget “to make sure that the numbers we have are accurate and to ensure that we’ve got confidence that what we’re proposing is actually going to be accomplishable by our district,” Durst said.

To fill in gaps, they are not using money allocated for teacher salaries. “We won’t be taking money away from teacher salaries that had otherwise been specifically identified for that purpose or for special education or anything else,” he said. 

“Any dollars that are designated for a specific purpose — regardless of the source, whether federal or state — those monies will be spent for their intended purpose,” he said. 

“I think it’s important for people to understand that the budget process that this district has been using, prior to my starting my position here, wasn’t great,” he said.

How much value does West Bonner place on educators?

Board chairman Keith Rutledge’s comments during a town hall meeting raised the community’s ire. After presenting a list of academic grievances that characterized West Bonner as one of the lowest performing districts in the state, the chairman expressed that teachers don’t deserve a raise this year. 

To boost morale and show them support, a local fourth-grade teacher gathered more than a 100 uplifting personal stories from former students and parents about West Bonner educators.

“I think there’s also been some misreporting around our commitment to supporting our educators — and that’s wrong,” Durst said. 

“I think we want educators who are committed to providing academic excellence to our students. We want to fund academic improvement and outcomes,” he said.

There are approximately 20 teacher vacancies, a number that is high even for a district with chronic retention issues.

“This year has had a higher number than even normal, although it’s not unusual when there’s a change in leadership, no matter who it is,” Durst said. “I’m willing to acknowledge that maybe by coming in, I made that even more prevalent than it maybe otherwise would have been in other circumstances.”

Durst believes the district’s aggressive and creative recruiting is producing applications from qualified candidates.

“We’ve had some people from out of state apply for positions with our district; people who would be just all-star teachers in any school district in the state of Idaho. And they’ve applied for positions here. So we’re excited about the quality of talent that we’re attracting.  I think we’re going to actually have a stronger staff next year in a lot of ways than we’ve had in many years in the past,” he said.

Does the superintendent have the qualifications to lead West Bonner?

“I think that there’s been a lot of journalistic laziness, because they keep pointing to this one thing that I don’t have. The reality is the administrative rules don’t create a hierarchy of which requirement is more important than another,” Durst said.

An administrator certificate with a superintendent endorsement requires the following:

  • Doctorate degree or comparable education: An education specialist or doctorate degree OR having completed a comparable post-Master’s sixth year program at an accredited college or university.
  • Four years spent working in a school: Four years of full-time certificated/licensed experience working with students while under contract in an accredited school setting.
  • Administrative internship: Completion of an administrative internship in a state board approved program for the superintendent endorsement, or have one year of out-of-state experience as an assistant superintendent or superintendent.
  • Completion of a post-master’s, school superintendent program: Provide verification of completion of an approved program of at least thirty (30) semester credit hours, of post-master’s degree graduate study for the preparation of school superintendents at an accredited college or university. This program in school administration must include demonstration of proficiency in conducting instructional and pupil service staff evaluations based on the statewide framework for evaluation, and demonstration of competencies in the Idaho standards for superintendents and the Idaho Standards for School Principals.
  • Recommendation: Receive an institutional recommendation for a superintendent endorsement.

Durst said he possesses each of those listed requirements, except four years spent working in a school.

“There’s been a lot of misreporting around that,” he said. “The reality is, I have more boxes checked than any other finalist. If critics are going to be consistent, they should be consistent in recognizing that I’m more qualified, at least in terms of the eligibility for an endorsement.”

Durst has scheduled three town hall meetings, starting with tonight in Priest Lake Elementary at 6 p.m. On July 27, he will be at Idaho Hill Elementary and Aug. 12 at 10 a.m. in Priest River Lamanna High School. A regular school board meeting is planned July 26 in the high school at 6 p.m.

“It’s hard, it’s stressful, but I really enjoy it,” Durst said about becoming a superintendent.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this. And the reason is because I know the impact education can have on somebody’s life. And I also recognize the need to have educational leaders who see things differently and do things differently. And so the opportunity to do that and to be able to be part of it is pretty exciting for me.”

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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