Fair warning to public school patrons across the Gem State

The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) may be coming to your school district to carry out its publicly-proclaimed goal of getting the government out of the business of educating our kids. Just witness the disintegration of the West Bonner County School District (WBCSD) in Priest River at the hands of an extremist-controlled school board.

Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown were elected to the school board in 2021 with IFF’s support. Along with a third IFF-supported trustee, they have had WBCSD in turmoil ever since. They refused to support a school levy in May that was intended to cover about a third of the district’s operating budget. That put the district in a real financial bind.

The trio then voted in June to hire an unqualified individual, IFF employee Branden Durst, as school superintendent. For inexplicable reasons, they have failed to pursue an emergency certification that might allow Durst to legally act as superintendent until he can become qualified for the position. On August 16, the State Board of Education notified Rutledge that the “board’s decision to allow an uncertified individual to serve as superintendent violates Idaho law.” The notice outlined four other board deficiencies.

WBCSD has reportedly lost 33 employees in recent months because of the board’s actions. Not to worry, though, because Durst is hiring right-wing zealots to replace some of them. They include Melissa Reilly, who appears to share the bigoted view of her white nationalist husband Dave Reilly, and Brandy Pardee, a leader with “Stop Idaho RINOs.” As far as the failed levy goes, Durst is glad it failed. The board majority seems to be fine with all of the upheaval Durst has visited upon WBCSD, which may account for the fact that school patrons were able to get a recall vote scheduled for Rutledge and Brown for August 29. It would obviously have been better if more school patrons had gotten out to vote in 2021 to keep the IFF candidates from seizing control.

School board elections are coming up soon in many school districts across the state and it is almost a certainty that the IFF or some like-minded folks will try to get disruptive candidates like Rutledge and Brown elected. How better to accomplish the goal of deconstructing public education in Idaho?

More than ever, Idahoans will need to check out the credentials of those running to control their local school board, so as to ensure that only candidates who are dedicated to making schools and kids successful are entrusted with these important positions. Some of those Idahoans can help their local schools by becoming candidates themselves.

The best way for citizens of good faith to protect our schools is to step forward to serve or urge others to do so. A candidate needs to be an elector of his or her school district and a resident of the trustee zone in question. Candidates may file, starting August 28, but must file no later than 5:00 pm on September 8. Additional information on how to file can be obtained from the clerk of their local school district board.

School elections are not the only important elections to be held on November 7. Cities and some independent districts will be holding elections and, given the desire of organizations like IFF to stack such positions with extreme-right candidates, it is important that reasonable, pragmatic candidates step forward for those positions. Also, conscientious voters must inform themselves to ensure that disruptive individuals like those who seized control of WBCSD do not obtain the reins of power.

Jim Jones

Jim Jones

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017).

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