State Board’s deadline to fix violations forces West Bonner board into action

West Bonner superintendent Branden Durst was directed by school trustees to apply for a State Board of Education emergency provisional certificate by the end of the month.

Their action ends a months-long struggle between Durst and the State Board. Durst was unwilling to apply because of his belief that two superintendents cannot hold emergency provisional certifications at the same time, a claim dispelled by the State Department of Education. 

The State Board notified West Bonner last week in a letter that Durst does not hold the proper superintendent certification and is therefore unqualified to work in Idaho as a superintendent.

The “codes strongly suggest your board’s decision to allow an uncertified individual to serve as superintendent violates Idaho law,” according to the letter obtained by Idaho Education News.

West Bonner trustees held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to address the State Board’s Aug. 23 deadline to submit a written response, explaining how the district will correct the violation. 

Trustees plan to comply. Durst was instructed to write that response Wednesday and provide a copy to trustees for review prior to submission to the State Board. The letter will confirm that Durst is applying for certification this month.

“Our response to the State Board of Education needs to be reviewed by the full board before it goes in, and the signature on that needs to be that of the chair, not Mr. Durst,” trustee Margaret Hall said.

They voted 3-1 in favor of compelling Durst to apply “for the purpose of serving as West Bonner County School District superintendent for the 2023-2024 school year by a date no later than Aug. 31.” Chairman Keith Rutledge, vice chairwoman Susan Brown and trustee Troy Reinbold voted in favor, while trustee Hall voted against it; trustee Carlyn Barton abstained, citing the meeting’s lack of proper notice.

I’m abstaining because unfortunately this meeting did not give us 24-hours notice. This is an emergency meeting but doesn’t qualify under the emergency Idaho code. And so I will be abstaining from this, because this all should be null and void,” Barton said.

Meanwhile, Hall questioned additional language added to the motion that could change Durst’s contract. It appears that once he applies for the certification, a previous requirement in his contract may be nullified.

“I think it’s inappropriate that other board members have not seen what you’re actually reading in terms of the motions going on,” Hall said to Brown.

She then asked Brown to reread the specific language twice.

Brown said, “That any provision related to this certification in the superintendent’s agreement shall be null and void and hereby fulfilled in its entirety. I think it’s pretty self explanatory.”

“For clarification, is that striking other designated qualifications? Is that changing item B?” Hall asked.

Hall read the item from his contract: “Item B states the board shall retain the option to immediately terminate this contract should the superintendent be required by Idaho code to obtain and maintain an Idaho superintendent certification or provisional certification … So I need clarification if that’s what you’re referring to?”

“That is correct,” Brown replied.

After the 3-1 vote, Barton said, “And again, I’m going to abstain because we didn’t have enough notice. Nothing should happen today. This whole meeting should be null and void.”

To view Durst’s contract, please use this link. The screenshot below highlights item B of his contract.

The district declared a one-year emergency

Trustees passed a motion declaring an emergency pursuant to Idaho code 33-1203 and said the emergency shall be in full force from Aug. 31 until June 30, 2024. The emergency declaration will be added as an addendum to Durst’s contract. 

Brown, Rutledge and Reinbold voted in favor; Barton abstained and Hall voted against the motion. “I will say no to the matter,” she said.

When the letter is approved and sent to the State Board Wednesday and Durst makes his official provisional certificate application, it seems that West Bonner trustees will have met the state’s imposed deadline.

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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