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West Bonner parents share concerns

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | October 8, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — When West Bonner met in an abbreviated meeting in late September, community members hoped the board would discuss — and approve — a social media policy.

That didn't happen.

Trustee Troy Reinbold, who skipped the board's regular meeting, only agreed to attend if a pair of executive sessions were dropped and only items critical to district operation were addressed, such as paying its bills and formally declaring two seats impacted by a recall as being open.

That meant, in a quickly shuffled meeting, public comments were moved to the end — when the board no longer had a quorum after Reinbold opted to leave, saying he was tired and wet from a long day at work.

Among the items raised by the public were potential additional phases of a forensic audit as well as a social media policy. Included in an early version of the board's agenda, West Bonner parent Katie Elsaesser said she was disappointed to see the policy dropped from the agenda.

"I just think it's best practice that that be contained and people stop posting on social media on behalf of the district," Elsaesser said. "It's not appropriate. The social media should come through the district and not speak on behalf [of it], and I'm speaking directly to Superintendent [Branden] Durst.

Sandy Brower, who is running for Priest River City Council, said while she understands why the board moved public comment to the end of the meeting, she wished that the public could have weighed in on future phases of a forensic audit being conducted by the district.

"I think we all would have had appreciated more information with regard to the recommendation, if the continuation is to ensure there is no criminal or fraudulent activity, assuming none have been identified so far," Brower said. "I would like to have had that stated and would like that stated very early."

Other residents asked about two-signature verification on documents and called for an end to "the past practice of open season" on past employees.

Also cut from the meeting was a presentation on creating a logging career-technical program. Jared Hughes, who has taught forestry at the school for many years, said the district is finalizing a $997,000 grant request to create the program.

"What this grant is going to do, is help me expand our CTE program for forestry, for wildlife, and for some other things," Hughes told trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton, as well as community members who stayed for the presentation.

The program would encompass forestry management, forest products, wildlife ecology management, and GPS/GIS mapping.