State Board of Education rejects West Bonner’s request for corrective action

West Bonner trustees were provided clarity about superintendent Branden Durst’s application for a provisional certificate. If granted, the certificate would allow Durst to fully serve as the district’s superintendent. Now it’s up to trustees to file the application with the State Board of Education.

West Bonner superintendent Branden Durst’s belief that a State Board of Education error prevents him from applying for an emergency provisional certificate is inaccurate.

Through a public records request, EdNews obtained written correspondence between West Bonner and the State Board. According to a letter from executive director Matt Freeman to West Bonner School Board chairman Keith Rutledge, the district’s interpretation of Idaho code is wrong.

“You signed the attestation in the form. Your signature appears to match that of your July 7th letter,” Freeman responded in the letter to Rutledge. “If an emergency did not exist, it is unclear why the district would have hired (Susan) Luckey to serve as superintendent at its March 17th meeting.”

The clock is ticking. Durst previously told the patrons of West Bonner that he will lead the district with a provisional certificate, a task he thought he was unable to complete because of a perceived discrepancy with Luckey’s provisional certificate.

Durst needs an emergency certificate because he did not meet all the requirements to obtain a superintendent endorsement when the district hired him, which caused an outcry in the small community of Priest River. The hiring of Durst launched an effort to recall two trustees, Rutledge and Susan Brown. They face an Aug. 29 recall election.

West Bonner has until Aug. 16 to submit Durst’s provisional application to meet the deadline for the State Board’s Oct. 18 meeting. The board can either grant him authority to act as superintendent with the provisional certificate, or deny the application. If he remains superintendent after a denial, the state could impose a “funding reduction” for the superintendent’s full salary.

Following the resignation of Jackie Branum in March, Luckey, a former Priest Lake Elementary principal, served as interim superintendent until the end of the school year. Her application for an emergency certificate was granted by the State Board in June. She and Durst applied for the permanent job this summer, but Durst was selected by a 3-2 vote.

Rutledge’s July 7 correspondence requests that the emergency certificate given to Luckey “be rescinded immediately due to nonconformance with Idaho law.”

In the email, Rutledge reminded Freeman that his board should have declared an emergency in open meeting and recorded that declaration in the official minutes. 

“No such process occurred with regards to Mrs. Luckey because no emergency was ever declared by the Board of Trustees and subsequently no official board minutes exist,” Rutledge wrote.

Once the State Board takes “corrective action,” Rutledge said West Bonner is looking forward to submitting a valid application for Durst.

On Wednesday, Freeman responded with a six-page rebuttal. 

West Bonner superintendent Branden Durst (right) chats with Idaho Association of School Administrator's conference attendees on Aug. 3.
West Bonner superintendent Branden Durst (right) chats with Idaho Association of School Administrator’s conference attendees on Aug. 3.

“While the application packet asks the requesting district or charter to attest that an emergency declaration was made and recorded pursuant to Idaho open meeting law — and you did so attest — Idaho Code § 33-1203 does not impose such a requirement. Nor does that statute prevent the State Board from independently assessing whether an emergency exists,” Freeman wrote.

The state’s provisional application form does include a paragraph that asks boards to declare an emergency and record it in their minutes. However, Freeman clarified that the application and Idaho code are two separate issues.

“Regardless, the State Board considered the district’s request that Ms. Luckey be granted a provisional emergency certificate at its June 14, 2023 meeting and granted the request in reliance on the materials submitted by West Bonner County, in particular the emergency provisional certificate form submitted under your signature as chair of the board,” he continued.

“Therefore, no further action will be taken on this matter,” Freeman concluded.

The emergency provisional certificate form West Bonner submitted provides the following “emergency explanation verification” in support of the district’s request for Luckey’s emergency provisional certificate, Freeman noted.

  • “The Board of Trustees declared an emergency exists in our district/charter for the position and recorded this declaration in the current school year official board minutes meeting on 03/17/2023.” 
  • “The previous Superintendent resigned effective immediately, 3/15/2023. Our Board of Trustees met, and appointed Susie Luckey as the Interim Superintendent for the remainder of the 22-23 school year.”
  • “Hire date for this assignment 3/17/2023.”

The State Board relies on information provided by school districts detailing the emergency, which is the basis for a district’s request for approval of a provisional emergency certificate, the letter stated. Freeman’s ruling gives West Bonner trustees the go-ahead to apply for Durst’s provisional certificate.

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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