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WBCSD special meeting prompts concern

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Hagadone News Network | September 6, 2023 1:00 AM

PRIEST RIVER — A special West Bonner school board meeting set for today is drawing community concerns as well as that of an attorney representing two Bonner County voters granted a restraining order prohibiting the board from making any decisions that bind the board financially or contractually.

Among the items on the agenda are items affirming board actions June 28 and Aug. 22. Both may violate the temporary restraining order approved by a Bonner County judge Friday.

"As those board actions relate to a contract, contract addendum and revisions to those contracts, those are in direct violation of the temporary restraining order preventing any such action," said attorney Katie Elsaesser, who sought the restraining order on behalf of citizens Peggy A. Smith and Dana Douglas.

Smith lives in Zone 4 and voted to recall Rutledge, while Douglas lives in Zone 2 and voted to recall Brown.

The restraining order prohibits any action at a board meeting that impacts the board structure, financially commits the district or contractually obligates the school district in any way until after the recall election is canvassed.

The county's Board of Canvassers is slated to canvass the Aug. 29 recall election Thursday, Sept. 7.

"You are not only violating a court order, but your actions will be null and void as you have been restrained by the court from any action that financially commits the district or contractually obligates the district," Elsaesser wrote in an email to the board after a notice of the meeting was posted on the school district's social media accounts shortly after 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Members of a Facebook group dedicated to supporting the district's students also questioned the meeting, expressing confusion on how it could be held with the court order in place.

Elsaesser said the reasons for today's special meeting, like the one last week, are improper under Idaho Code 33-506. That section of the code requires that special meetings be held only for the proper conduct and necessary management of the district and its schools.

"The items are not only unnecessary but appear to only benefit Mr. Durst and Ms. Paradee, which is a breach of your fiduciary duty as trustees if you proceed with the special meeting and items on the agenda," she wrote to the board.

Like Friday's meeting, the Sept. 6 meeting includes board action on evaluations of both Superintendent Branden Durst and board clerk Brandy Paradee, as well as reaffirming board actions from June 28 and Aug. 22. However, it drops action items to dissolve the current board and elect a new chairman, approve additional phases of a forensic audit and update Durst's contract.

"This agenda shows exactly what the recalled trustees prioritize, and it is not the district, the finances of the district or the students," Elsaesser told the Daily Bee. "The agenda for Friday the 1st and for Wednesday the 6th shows why this community turned out in record numbers to recall Brown and Rutledge."

Board Chair Keith Rutledge, Vice Chair Susan Brown and Trustee Margaret Hall did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on today's special meeting or the items listed on the agenda.

The restraining order capped a daylong effort Friday by residents to stop what they said were efforts to circumvent the successful recall vote and included statements by both the Idaho State Department of Education and the Idaho Secretary of State's office. Officials with both agencies noted they had heard from multiple people in the school district and would be monitoring the situation.

In an email thread between Durst, Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale and state officials, the West Bonner superintendent said the district was simply seeking clarity on how steps following the recall should be "operationalized."

"I have competing board members seeking to control the board at this point, and I need to know who has the statutory authority to act," Durst wrote in an Aug. 30 morning email to an official with the Secretary of State’s office.

The controversy only abated after a Bonner County judge granted the restraining order, forcing the district to cancel the 5 p.m. meeting about 30 minutes before it was slated to start.