A parent is campaigning to recall Amy Johnson, chair of the West Ada School Board, over her employment at Blue Cross of Idaho.
David Binetti, an organizer of West Ada parents opposed to school mask mandates, has launched a website calling for Johnson’s recall, arguing that her position at the health insurance company has created a conflict of interest as she affects school policy during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ll look for other solutions in the meantime, but if it continues to be our last option, then we’ll continue to move forward with the more formal process,” Binetti told EdNews by phone Saturday.
Binetti argues Johnson should be ousted because she’s allegedly violating a West Ada board conflict of interest policy by working at Blue Cross, the Idaho Statesman first reported. The policy prohibits trustees from receiving gifts, using their office to benefit themselves and their families or other actions that abuse power.
He cites the policy’s self-described goal: “to prevent placing a Trustee in a position where the Trustee’s interest in the public schools and interest in his/her place of employment might conflict, and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, even though such a conflict may not exist,” in defending his campaign.
Johnson supports mask mandates in schools, unethically forwarding her employer’s interests and prioritizing epidemiological concerns over educational ones, Binetti argues. (Johnson in August voted with the board to require students to wear masks in classrooms but let parents opt their children out of the rule, which about one third of parents did. Superintendent Derek Bub later revoked that option, using authority the board gave him as coronavirus cases have surged among school-age Idaho children, and as hospitals have been forced to ration care for the first time during the pandemic.)
A former health policy analyst, Johnson said having a health care background isn’t a conflict of interest.
“And it doesn’t violate any policy in West Ada or Idaho,” she maintains. “(The recall campaign) is a distraction from doing what we are trying to do, which is keep kids in school full-time, learning. And … take care of any learning loss from the last year of COVID. And I’m gonna stay focused on that. That’s the only thing you can do.”
Violations of district policy like the one in question are generally handled by the district and investigated by an outside legal counsel, according to Johnson. But Binetti hasn’t submitted a complaint to West Ada regarding the alleged violation.
“The district is not in a position to police itself, but you’ll see a complaint directed at a different authority next week,” Binetti said.
He declined to say which entity he plans to file a complaint with.
So far, no documents forwarding a formal recall attempt have been filed with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office or Ada County, and Binetti has not yet started collecting the thousands of signatures needed to get a recall election on the ballot, he said.
Johnson would be the most difficult of West Ada’s trustees to recall, if sheer numbers are any indication. To get the issue on the ballot, Binetti would have to collect signatures totaling 50% of the votes cast in Johnson’s election to the board in 2019 — all from the geographic region Johnson represents — EdNews previously reported. That year, 5,155 voters turned out to vote in Johnson’s race as school board elections were held alongside municipal elections on the November ballot, in accordance with a then-new election law. That was the highest turnout any sitting trustee received.
Plus, a majority of voters would have to back a recall at the ballot box, and the number of recall supporters would have to exceed the number of votes Johnson netted in 2019 — 2,960.
Binetti doesn’t live in Zone 2 — the geographic region Johnson represents — so he won’t be able to add his name to the list of signatures. But he is organizing the effort among likeminded parents, and reports he has been met with “overwhelming support,” which Johnson disputes.
A 2020 attempt to recall all members of the West Ada board over pandemic protocols petered out after efforts to oust Johnson and her vice chair were dropped and two trustees resigned.
Johnson said the pressure applied by a vocal minority of protesting parents has taken a toll not only on the volunteer school board members who make policy decisions for the district, but on West Ada’s teachers and staff. Some have considered leaving the profession amid political turmoil fueled by debates about masking, she told EdNews by phone Friday.
Recall backers are exploring other options, but declined to get into specifics.
“I want the easiest path,” Binetti said. “And look, recall is not the easiest path to get there. It’s difficult. It’s a tremendous amount of effort. Not good for parents. Not good for the district. Certainly not good for Amy.”