Durst will ‘seek amicable and fair exit’ from West Bonner Co. School District

After a month of no quorum, trustees declare board vacancies in Zones 2 and 4

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

For the first time in nearly a month after the Aug. 29 special election that resulted in the recall of former-West Bonner County School District Board of Trustees Chair Keith Rutledge and former-Vice-Chair Susan Brown, the district finally mustered a quorum for its Sept. 27 meeting. 

Trustee Troy Reinbold attended via telephone after missing three consecutive meetings, allowing the board to officially recognize the vacancies from the two zones occupied by the recalled board members. 

Along with trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton, who both attended in person, Reinbold approved a motion to officially declare vacancies in the zones formerly held by Rutledge and Brown, which would begin the process to fill those seats.

Applications for those seeking positions on the board for Zones 2 and 4 will be accepted no later than Friday, Oct. 13 at 5 p.m., and interviews could potentially be conducted on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 4:30 p.m., prior to the regularly scheduled meeting. Applicants will be vetted for qualifications and asked to turn in a petition of candidacy with no less than five signatures from electors in their district.

Absent from the meeting was any discussion about the elephant in the room, a statement published by embattled WBCSD Superintendent Branden Durst to social media on Sept. 25, indicating he would be parting ways with the district after months of controversy surrounding his hiring.

Branden Durst speaks with reporters after the canceled meeting. Photo by Ben Olson.

Rutledge, Brown and Reinbold all voted in favor of hiring Durst, with Hall and Barton opposed, providing a major impetus for the successful recall effort in August.

“Today, I am announcing my decision to seek an amicable and fair exit from my role as the Superintendent of the West Bonner County School District,” Durst wrote. “This decision has not been made lightly, and I am fully aware of the challenges and sentiments that have surrounded my brief tenure.”

Durst’s letter fell short of announcing his resignation, but instead focused on the “relentless obstacles thrown my way by those who wished to see me fail, including the Idaho State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

He continued, stating, “despite these challenges, I persevered and with the help of great staff achieved remarkable milestones that I hope will have a positive impact on the district long into the future.”

The “milestones” Durst claimed included how he “successfully placed over 30 new staff members in key positions across the district,” as well as “initiated a thorough forensic audit,” and began implementation of the district’s “five-year strategic plan, providing the district with a clear roadmap for the future.”

The Reader reached out to Durst for clarification on several points in his letter, including what he meant by “an amicable and fair exit.” The Reader also asked about his claim regarding “staff enhancements” after at least 38 resignations were counted from the district since June 21, as well as the fact that WBCSD is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with former employees who alleged they were not paid for their work before being terminated. 

Durst did not respond to the Reader’s questions.

“The Board is aware of Mr. Durst’s intended exit, and plans to take the matter up at this week’s Board Special Meeting,” the trustees wrote on Facebook Sept. 25. However, no mention was made about Durst’s letter or intended exit from the district at the Sept. 27 meeting.

Reinbold made a motion at the beginning of the meeting to amend the agenda, asking to strike several action items, as well as two executive sessions related to considering dismissal of an employee as well as the hiring of a new employee to fill a vacancy. The motion was approved and Reinbold left the meeting prior to the public comment period.

Being executive sessions, no details were provided related to the substance of the items pertaining to employee dismissal or hiring.

Meanwhile, Durst stated in his Sept. 25 post, “I believe it is necessary for me to step aside as Superintendent. It may not be entirely fair, but life rarely is. However, I am committed to facilitating a smooth transition for the district and supporting the new superintendent.”

The next board meeting for WBCSD has been scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 18.

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