West Bonner recall organizers say trustees have a ‘hidden agenda’

PRIEST RIVER — The recall election ballots are as divisive as recent West Bonner school board meetings, where patrons have hurled accusations and insults.

Keith Rutledge doesn’t respect the rights and opinions of his constituents and has a “hidden agenda,” according to the ballot language argument for recalling the board’s chairman.

Meanwhile, Rutledge suggests his conservative ideology will produce better outcomes for children and will toss out any “critical theory curriculum.”

Voters get the last word.

Following the selection of Branden Durst to lead West Bonner, local organizers gathered enough signatures to recall Rutledge and board vice chair Susan Brown. The recall election is scheduled Aug. 29 in Old Town, West Priest River, East Priest River, Edgemire and Laclede precincts. About 3,400 voters live in the precincts, according to Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale.

Bad behavior, mismanagement of funds, conflicts with district administrators or teachers, a refusal to listen to constituents, and open meeting laws violations are among the reasons listed on petitions seeking to recall board members, according to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit that tracks nationwide school board elections. 

A sample ballot released this week provides a glimpse into the weeks-long struggle between board members and patrons trying to wrest control from what critics describe as an ultraconservative majority, in a district with the wrong person at the helm.

Durst is a former Democratic lawmaker, Republican state superintendent candidate and recently an analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a hardline conservative organization. His lack of the required K-12 education experience raised opposition during school board meetings.

The new superintendent has not filed for an emergency provisional certificate that would provide authority to fully act as superintendent. But he’s settled into the role, scheduling two town hall meetings this month and one next month.

Rutledge’s July 8 counterarguments to the recall during a town hall meeting drew the ire of many. And several Facebook groups were created to oust him, like West Bonner School District Recall Replace Rebuild.

With 39 days left before voters have their say, Rosedale’s office released the sample ballots. Aside from the rebuttal statements they submitted — which are included on the ballots — Brown and Rutledge have not communicated with Rosedale’s office.

Rosedale said voters are asking one recurring question: Did you have to vote in the previous board elections to vote in the recall election?

“The answer is ‘no,’” Rosedale said.

All registered voters in the five precincts are eligible to vote, he said, “assuming you’re registered.”

A recall election requires a simple majority to pass. Also, the number of voters supporting the recall must surpass the number of voters supporting the officeholder in the previous election — for Rutledge, that threshold is 245 votes; for Brown, it’s 177.

If Brown or Rutledge are recalled, the board can declare a vacancy at a regular or special meeting. The board has 90 days to appoint someone from the zone where the vacancy occurred. If the board fails to find a suitable replacement, they are allowed to appoint someone from within the district’s boundaries. If there is no resolution after 120 days, county commissioners can make the appointment. Appointees serve out the reminder of the term of office which was declared vacant, according to Idaho law.

Like any election, voters can request absentee ballots in advance, those who want to vote early can stop by the clerk’s office, and the polls in those five precincts will be open on election day.

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].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday