PRIEST RIVER — The West Bonner School District gained positive traction Monday with two milestones: Trustees hired an experienced interim superintendent and filled two board vacancies.
Following the official resignation of Branden Durst last week, the board voted unanimously to hire Joe Kren as interim superintendent under a 90-day contract. In September, Durst made a public announcement of his intention to step down as superintendent but didn’t indicate when that would occur.
The three-person board was unable to address his resignation because a quorum couldn’t be established. Trustee Troy Reinbold’s repeated absences caused the board’s inability to take action. But he attended the last two meetings so board business could be accomplished. Durst was not in Priest River when the board accepted his resignation last week. His four-month tenure from June to October was marked by heated opposition and repeated controversy.
Kren is a former West Bonner principal and former superintendent at Saint Maries Joint School District. A copy of his one-page contract was not made available but interim board chairman Margaret Hall characterized it as “standard.” According to the contract, Kren will stay in the position for 90 working days, which extends his tenure until March 20.
Kren’s appointment was followed by a loud round of applause from the audience.
The board briefly recessed and reconvened to interview five candidates to fill two spots left vacant after the August recall election removed trustees Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown by overwhelming majorities in August. Rutledge and Brown were the driving force behind a number of unpopular decisions.
Trustees felt both candidates were qualified and would bring value. But because of her involvement with the community and experience with the city council, the board selected Ann Yount to fill the Zone 4 trustee position. Her appointment came on a split 2-1 vote. Reinbold voted against Yount.
“I’d like to thank both of the applicants; you did a great job,” trustee Carlyn Barton said.
Zone 4 candidates were allowed two-minute opening statements, starting with Yount, a well-known school volunteer and longtime Priest River business owner. Wendy Eaton has two children and one-step child in West Bonner schools. She works as a support representative for Classical Conversations, an entity that supports home educators. Both candidates discussed rebuilding unity and improving community involvement.
Trustees Reinbold, Hall and Barton took turns asking a series of eight questions. Among them was “why do you want to serve on the board?”
Yount said, “I love this community. I know so many of the people here and I want to see it succeed.”
Eaton said, “I have a passion for children and to see them succeed. I think that education is very important and it’s getting lost in all the division in the community.”
In Zone 2, all three candidates brought a lifetime of experience in finance, education, the military, business and coaching. They expressed a desire to establish a board that serves the community, find ways to correct any current financial problems and help students achieve better academic success.
The decision to appoint Paul Turco came down to his passion, deep ties with the community coaching the youth, financial experience and potential to help heal the community’s polarization. Trustees split 2-1 in favor of Turco. Reinbold was the dissenting vote.
Barton said, “It was another pretty close decision.”
“It seemed like everybody who applied tonight is capable of being on the board,” said Reinbold. “Just because of Bradley’s experience, I picked him.”
“Thank you gentlemen for applying and stepping forth,” said Hall.
Donald Paden: “Pride and support brought the community together and it tore it apart.” He noted the need to improve communication with the community, address low ISAT scores, fix distrust the community expresses for the board and improve the district’s financial situation. “We need to come together as a board and regain the trust of the community — that’s vital. I have a personal interest in this with two grandchildren. I am concerned about the track the school is on right now,” he said.
Paul Turco: “I’m proud of how the community came together. Both sides are showing that they care for the students and that’s a good foundation to build on. The weakness is the misunderstandings.” His top goals include providing explanations for the public about how funding works, focusing on the retention of teachers and helping the community regain its trust in the board. “Simply, I care,” he said.
Brad Cossette: “The five year plan is a well-written document. It’s going to be difficult to make sure someone is there who’s forcing it through to achieve the goals.” He said West Bonner is so much more involved than what’s going on in Spokane schools. “It’s something to be proud of,” he said. “Education has been my life. I want to be able to give back towards it. I’ve seen the great things it’s done for so many kids. I am devoted to helping the kids of this community.”