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WBCSD approves Durst contract

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | June 29, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — After a convoluted series of motions — and a move to start from scratch — West Bonner County School District trustees voted to approve a two-year contract to hire Branden Durst as its new superintendent.

After more than an hour of motions, counter-motions and debate, trustee Carlyn Barton eventually made a motion to rescind all previous motions and start over, prompting the crowd to erupt in laughter.

Barton then moved to approve a one-year $110,000 contract, running from July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2024. The motion would also have pulled legal coverage for Durst's wife, Cheri, in the event he faces any civil lawsuits for any decisions made as superintendent.

The motion also called for the removal of a phrase allowing additional qualifying designations to be accepted if Durst does not receive provisional superintendent certification. It also called for an annual written evaluation instead of the contract automatically being renewed each fiscal year.

An attempt by Rutledge to amend the motion, or have another board member move to amend it to extend the timeframe to two years, was quickly made moot when Barton pointed out that a motion with a second was already on the table.

The motion failed in a 3-2 vote with board chair Keith Rutledge, vice chair Susan Brown and trustee Troy Reinbold voting against. Trustee Margaret Hall and Barton voted in favor.

Brown then moved to approve a two-year contract that would strike the other qualifying designation and require an annual written evaluation. However, it would keep spousal coverage for Durst's wife if the Idaho Risk Management Program, or ICRMP, allows the coverage. ICRMP is a member-owned local government risk pool that provides insurance coverage for government entities in the state.

In arguing against the spousal coverage, Barton and Hall said ICRMP and the district insurance underwriter both indicated they had not seen the clause in a similar contract and the pair said the move could put the district at financial risk.

However, Durst indicated that because Idaho is a community property state, he and his wife could be at significant risk if he was sued civilly due to a decision he made as superintendent, according to an email from the former Idaho Freedom Foundation policy analyst read by Barton.

The amended, two-year contract was adopted on a 3-2 vote with Reinbold, Brown and Rutledge voting in favor. Hall and Barton voted against.

An emergency declaration, which allows the district to hire a superintendent without the appropriate certification pending emergency certification by the state also passed on a 3-2 vote with Rutledge, Brown and Reinbold voting aye and Hall and Barton voting no.

However, before the vote, Barton read a statement saying she did not see the need for a state of emergency. A community work session showed the community would work to fill any gaps and the district had any number of potential qualified candidates who could fill in an interim post.

She said she found the lack of transparency by several on the board to be very concerning, adding that she'd hoped to unify the district as both a teacher and a parent.

"My hope was to unite the board, employees of the district, and the community. Yet the direction of our board has turned into a fascist dictatorship with an agenda which is far from our conservative point of view," Barton said. "And, in no way open to uniting the board, employees of the district, or the community."

She said that a hidden agenda by a majority of the board did not align with the community — or fit with her early expectations of what the job would entail.

"I'm here to continue to fight for our community as a whole for what is good and right against evil and hidden agendas that will further divide our community," Barton said, struggling to fight off tears.

However, the impassioned plea failed to sway Brown, Rutledge, or Reinbold as the three voted to declare the emergency. Hall and Barton both voted against.

After a motion was made to head into executive session to discuss the contract, both Hall and Barton objected.

Hall said Idaho Code required a two-thirds vote by the board to go into executive session. She also said if Durst had already signed the contract and the board was merely to approve the contract and not make any changes, then the measure did not qualify to go into executive session and had to be discussed in public.

Rutledge contended that until it was ratified, the contract could not be discussed in public and forced a vote to go into executive session, which passed on a 3-2 vote.

Hall repeated her objection, again citing Idaho Code, prompting Rutledge to call for a five-minute recess, although he remained seated for more than a minute staring in Hall's direction.

After disappearing into the back room, texting as he went, Rutledge reappeared and said a two-thirds majority was not necessary to go into executive session. Citing Idaho Code, Rutledge said the contract was not public domain until 10 days after the board ratified it.

In response, Hall read another section of Idaho Code which specified that a two-thirds vote was necessary by the governing board to enter executive session.

Again, Rutledge started in Hall's direction before asking if she wanted to do it in public. Her affirmative response prompted a vote to return the matter to open session, which passed on a 3-2 vote, which forced the board's discussions into public.

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