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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West Bonner school district recalls two board members

West Bonner County Schools Board Chair Keith Rutledge, left, speaks to other members during a meeting of the West Bonner County School District board Wednesday, July 26, 2023 at the meeting at Priest River High School in Priest River, Idaho.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

The chair and vice chair of the West Bonner County school board were recalled in a special election Tuesday.

About 62.6% of the ballots voted for recalling Chair Keith Rutledge, and 66% voted to recall Vice Chair Susan Brown, according to unofficial election results reported late Tuesday by the Bonner County elections office. 

The recall petition organizers alleged Rutledge and Brown failed to uphold their oaths of office to improve public schools, don’t respect their constituents or fellow board members, and have shown a lack of concern for student education. Rebuttals written by Brown and Rutledge said they want more financial accountability and are defending against liberal agendas.

Rutledge and Brown were two of the three West Bonner board members who voted to make Branden Durst the district’s new superintendent. When he was hired in June, Durst was a Idaho Freedom Foundation staffer with no experience as a school administrator or teacher. 

Durst’s selection inspired community backlash from many parents in the district who argued he was was unqualified. Durst, a Republican who used to be a Democratic state lawmaker, has expressed support for publicly funded religious schools and banning gay pride flags statewide. He says he’s boldly remaking a struggling district while his opponents say he is politicizing a community institution.

The West Bonner district also is dealing with major financial problems, having to slash a third of its budget after voters in May rejected a levy request.

Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale said if the recall passed for either trustee, their term would end immediately, and the remainder of the school board would appoint their replacement.

For the recalls to succeed, two thresholds had to be met: A simple majority must vote in favor of the recall, and there needs to be at least 245 votes against Rutledge and at least 177 against Brown.

Both requirements were met for both trustees. In Tuesday’s election, 762 voted to recall Rutledge and 624 voted to recall Brown. 

Only voters in trustee zones 2 and 4 could vote.

Zone 2 for Brown includes about 1,480 registered voters in Oldtown, West Priest River and Blue Lake precincts. Zone 4 for Rutledge includes 1,920 voters in Laclede, Edgemere, East Priest River precincts and a small downtown portion of West Priest River.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.