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As election nears, control of West Bonner board in question

by DARREN SVAN / Idaho Ed News
| October 15, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — Anxiety about which trustees will control the West Bonner school board continues to swirl through the surrounding towns and backroads of this remote Idaho Panhandle district.

For seven months, division and mistrust on the five-person board and with the community have been commonplace. Parents and patrons vocally disagreed and challenged board decisions throughout the summer. 

And the successful recall of two board leaders in August did little to right the ship.

But overwhelming support in favor of the recall created an expectation that former trustees Susan Brown’s and Keith Rutledge’s departure would usher in new leadership and perhaps renewed focus on education.

The troubles in West Bonner kicked off following the resignation of superintendent Jackie Branum, the supplemental levy failure, the board’s decision to have a four-day school week, the last-minute cancelation of ELA curriculum and the controversial hiring of Branden Durst.

Little has changed. Now those voters who wanted change are pinning their hopes on the upcoming November election and the planned appointment of two new board members, if trustees show up — three are needed for a quorum — at the October, November or December meetings. Candidate applications to replace the recalled trustees are due by Oct. 13. And the board expects to discuss applicants in an open forum on Oct. 18, the last regular board meeting before the election.

Zone five candidates

Just off the main highway down a dirt road, the Blanchard Grange community center held about 30 people Saturday evening attending Carlyn Barton’s candidate forum. Her opponent, Kathy Nash, was unable to attend but Idaho Education News reached her Sunday and Monday for comment.

“I have integrity and I want to unify the district,” Barton told the audience. “We’re forgetting that we’re here for our kids.”

Voters expressed frustration at higher property taxes, the possibility of school curriculum with liberal indoctrination, a divisive superintendent and a dysfunctional school board.

Barton opposes any curriculum or social emotional learning that are gateways to critical race theory and she also opposes transgender affirmation, including biological males using girls’ restrooms. She does support levy proposals because the state created a shortfall in funding and it’s become necessary.

“Local money shouldn’t be funding the schools — the state should,” Barton said. But “shortfalls have to be made up.”

Her key issues are unifying the board, filling vacancies, finalizing contracts for teachers, complying with the State Board of Education and hiring a qualified superintendent who is invested in the community.

“Superintendent Durst was not qualified. That’s why I didn’t vote for him, and he’s still not qualified and it’s costing us money,” she said.

Patrons asked repeated questions about her views on the levy and social justice issues, like CRT and transgender students. One person inquired about her religion.

“I don’t know if this is appropriate, but I don’t care. Do you go to church?” a man asked.

Barton said she does attend church and that she is a Christian, conservative, educator, parent and graduate of West Bonner. You can find out more about Barton at this link.

Saturday’s moderator, Bonner County commissioner Asia Williams, called Nash on the phone after the event but she declined to speak with EdNews. A subsequent email to Nash’s campaign email NashforWBC@proton.me reached her Sunday. She did not respond in time for this publication.

Nash did follow up Monday evening with these responses. The most pressing problems include “excessive bullying, sexual misconduct, low test scores and graduation rates, financial mismanagement, lack of transparency, and lack of following established policy.” 

“The recent board wasn’t the problem. The school district establishment who have been the controlling powers for several decades are the ones who have allowed and contributed to the problems listed above,” Nash wrote.  

Nash is a Christian, conservative and Constitutionalist. “My great grandparents moved to Canyon County before 1910, with family continually living throughout Idaho. We moved to Bonner County in 2014. We have 13 grandkids – eight born in Idaho – and even one great granddaughter who are all being raised in north Idaho,” she said. 

Williams maintains a website that includes election-related events for zone five. According to Idaho True North News, Nash is planning two events this month: Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Stone Ridge Activity Center and Oct. 16-17 at 5 p.m. at Blanchard Community Church.

Candidates in zones one and three

West Bonner voters have four candidates to choose from in zones one and three. In zone three, the choices are Elizabeth Glazier and incumbent Troy Reinbold; in zone one, Alan Galloway and incumbent Margaret Hall.

Reinbold held a meet and greet event on Oct. 1 at Edgemere Grange in Priest River. It was reported that anyone outside of zone three was turned away. Reinbold’s campaign flyer reads “These events are exclusively for residents of Zone 3.” He has another event planned for Oct. 22, from 4-6 p.m. at HooDoo Cafe in Priest River.

Other than Reinbold’s personal Facebook page, which contains no election news, EdNews was not able to find an election website or Facebook page officially representing Reinbold. However, the WBCSD & West Bonner County Politics Facebook page contains two prominent posts targeting Glazier, who provided a response on that page.

Glazier is a financial advisor with two children attending West Bonner schools. She maintains an official election page that includes her platform and background. Click this link to find out more about Glazier. Her campaign message focuses on supporting teachers and financial transparency.

Glazier’s message reads, “I will work cohesively with teachers, staff, parents and community members to offer the students of WBCSD nothing but the best. It’s time that we showed our 1,000+ students that their community is behind them and their education.”

Zone One: Hall is the interim board chair. Her election website can be found on Facebook at this link or use this link for one not associated with Facebook. Her website provides her background, goals and accomplishments. Galloway is reportedly a cattle rancher. EdNews was unable to locate a campaign site dedicated to his election. He is active at the Facebook page Support WBCSD Schools.

This story was originally published on idahoednews.org on Oct. 9, 2023.