Wanted: one resident concerned about education. Thick skin and penchant for marathon meetings required. Pays nothing.
The Bonner County School District desperately is seeking a school board member. But it seems no one wants the often thankless job in a district that’s been in turmoil for years.
“We can still function with a vacancy, but that is not the way to do it,” said trustee Jerry Owens. “When you stop to think about it, it’s really pathetic.”
The vacancy was announced last month after newly elected trustee Tom Fuhriman decided to take a job in Boise. Since then, no one has put his or her name in to be appointed to the post.
Board Chairman Ann Souza made a plea for volunteers in a letter to a local newspaper. Teachers have tried to recruit friends and neighbors. Nothing has brought candidates forward.
“The school district, from the administrative level and board level, has been in such turmoil for many years now and has been so nasty, people just don’t want to get involved,” Owens said.
“I’ve got better things to do, too, than get called names and run around trying to find information. It’s not a fun position to be in,” he said. “But if nobody is going to do this, how is anything going to get solved? Somebody has to step up.”
Teachers and the administration are in the second year of a contract dispute, and the district faces an estimated $415,000 deficit. Last year, teachers cast a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Max Harrell, and the Idaho Department of Education sent a team to review how the district is being run.
The ongoing controversies are hard on board members. Some have lost customers at their private businesses because of decisions they’ve made.
“You are right by half the people and wrong by the other half. People don’t like being in that position,” Owens said.
If trustees can’t find someone to appoint to the board within a 90-day time-frame, the task goes to Bonner County commissioners.
State education officials said a trustee must be appointed or recruited. The board cannot operate with only four members.
“It’s not a good situation,” Owens said. “If people are that apathetic, they have no right to bitch about the district.”
Candidates aren’t breaking down the doors at City Hall either. Three city councilmen are up for re-election. Petitions to run for the seats are due Sept. 21. Only one form has been turned in so far, by incumbent Paul Graves.
If it is going to be that difficult to find school board members, Owens said the district may as well be turned over to the superintendent. “If people are not interested enough, they lose their right to have a voice,” he said.
Fuhriman was only on the job three months. He agreed to stay on the board until a replacement was found or until Oct. 31 at the latest.
He ran in the May election against then incumbent Bill Osmunson for the Zone 4 seat. Many residents campaigned against Osmunson, who received only 53 votes in the election.
If Osmunson submits his name to be appointed, it’s likely he could have the job back, even after voters turned him away.
“It’s ludicrous to me that people vehemently voted against an individual, that people said we don’t want you, and now nobody wants the job,” Owens said. “It’s really bizarre.”
If trustees find someone to appoint, the new board member will serve only until the next election in May.