By Zach Hagadone
Amid ongoing community debate, conversation and organizing, voters in Zones 2 and 4 of the West Bonner County School District will go to the polls Tuesday, Aug. 29 and be asked whether or not they support recalling Board of Trustees Chair Keith Rutledge and Co-Chair Susan Brown.
The recall effort grew out of opposition to the board’s appointment in late-July of Branden Durst as superintendent of the district. Durst lacks the necessary certification to serve in the top education job and, despite WBCSD trustees’ vote to declare an emergency in order for him to apply for a provisional certificate from the Idaho State Board of Education, he has yet to do so.
According to an Aug. 22 report from Idaho Education News, the State Board told the district in a recent letter that the “codes strongly suggest your board’s decision to allow an uncertified individual to serve as superintendent violates Idaho law.”
After an emergency meeting Aug. 21, the WBCSD board voted to direct Durst to apply for the provisional certificate “no later than Aug. 31.”
Opponents of Durst’s appointment have also pointed out his past work as an education policy analyst for the ultra-conservative libertarian group Idaho Freedom Foundation, and its often-stated goal of eliminating publicly funded education in the state.
Recall supporters have stated that Rutledge and Brown, in particular, are pursuing “a hidden agenda,” and don’t respect their constituents’ rights, nor “the opinion and ideas” of their fellow trustees. Other arguments in favor of the recall cite the votes made by Rutledge and Brown to rescind the purchase of a language arts curriculum, costing the district money; the trustees’ alleged failure to “recognize that a majority vote makes the decisions and the outcome needs to be supported by all members”; and that both need to be “open, fair and honest.”
Rutledge and Brown have “shown that [they] do not have the first and greatest concerns for the educational welfare of West Bonner County School District students attending public schools,” the pro-recall arguments conclude.
The Zone 2 ballot contains Brown’s “argument against” the recall, stating in part that she has “demanded financial transparency from the previous administrators even though they tried to block it at every turn.”
Furthermore, she claimed she “led the investigation” into the language arts curriculum, which “was riddled with CRT [Critical Race Theory] derived teaching methods and was 20% over budget.” Those methods, her rebuttal claimed, included Social Emotional Learning “being pushed by the recall organizers” as “a backdoor through Idaho law to promote CRT and LGBTQ+/- agendas.”
She characterized the effort to recall “the conservative board members” as being fronted by “a small group … allied with the Bonner County Democrats and their front groups.”
The Zone 4 ballot features Rutledge’s rebuttal, which states in part that, “Voting AGAINST my recall will keep a conservative majority on the school board that is working hard to improve the outcomes for our district’s children. Voting for my recall will hand control of our district back over to the very same people that are responsible for 60% reading competency rates and call that ‘a success.’”
Rutledge also contended that organizers of the recall “want to keep you and the whole state from seeing the results of our forensic audit. They want to keep you and the whole country from seeing how a conservative led school district can improve poor educational outcomes and give our children a better chance at actual success.”
As with Brown, Rutledge raised the specter of Critical Race Theory, claiming that voting “no” on the recall would mean the district “rejects” those curricula.
According to Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale, for the recall to be successful more voters must vote “yes” than initially put Rutledge and Brown into office (244 and 176, respectively) and the “yes” votes must outnumber the “no” votes by a simple majority. Petitioners gathered 337 valid signatures to put Rutledge on the recall ballot, and 243 valid signatures to put Brown on the ballot.
Polls will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the regular polling places in the five precincts of Zone 2 — which includes Blue Lake, Oldtown and West Priest River — and the seven precincts in Zone 4 — which includes East Priest River, Laclede and parts of West Priest River.
If the recall succeeds, the remaining three board members would vote to appoint replacement trustees. The canvas date for the election is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 7 at 10 a.m.
For more information, including full sample ballots, visit the Bonner County Elections website: bonnercountyid.gov/departments/CountyClerk, and click on “Elections” in the menu.
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