While the remaining members of the West Bonner School Board consider candidates for two vacancies left by a recent recall election, those board members are at the same time defending their own seats in the November election.
The election could reshape the board after a tumultuous year of budget shortfalls, a failed levy and the leadership of a divisive superintendent, Branden Durst.
Community backlash ousted the chair and vice chair – Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown – who, along with Trustee Troy Reinbold, voted to hire Durst in June.
Trustees Margaret Hall and Carlyn Barton opposed his hiring, and now control the board, at least temporarily.
Elizabeth Glazier, a financial adviser and parent of two Priest River Elementary students, is running against Reinbold. Challenging Hall and Barton are Alan Galloway, a rancher and U.S. Army veteran; and Kathy Nash, a semi-retired accountant.
The recall organizers Recall Replace Rebuild and the district’s teacher association have endorsed Hall, Barton and Glazier.
Despite the recall, the rural North Idaho district is deeply conservative. Its precincts overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2020.
Durst is a former education policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative advocacy group.
But Durst lacks some of the qualifications for a superintendent certificate, including four years of teaching experience. Prior to West Bonner, Durst had never worked in a K-12 school.
The Idaho Board of Education last month declined to consider an emergency certificate for him.
Employing uncertified administrators is illegal under state law. Durst still serves as superintendent despite not holding the certificate, but the state won’t fund his more than $100,000 salary.
Durst said he is willing to negotiate an exit, but the school board has not had time to remove him.
The board had to cancel last month’s regular meeting after Reinbold did not show up, since with only two trustees it failed to reach a quorum.
Reinbold called in to the meeting rescheduled a week later, but only had time to run through part of the agenda. The board again had to cancel meetings this week after Reinbold said he had a family emergency.
In Zone 1, the northern portion of the district including Priest Lake, Alan Galloway is running against Margaret Hall, who is serving as interim board chair until the vacancies are replaced.
Galloway, 67, declined an interview, but described himself as “very conservative.”
Hall, 67, has served on the school board since 2015 and was the chair before Rutledge.
She said she is running again because some of her constituents encouraged her to.
“I believe they did so because they perceive me as working extremely hard to be an informed, steadfast advocate for public education,” she said. “I will continue to do so despite the challenges.”
Her biggest concern is to bring stability to the district and regain the community’s trust in the board by being consistent and transparent, and to minimize polarization by focusing on something positive, such as the five-year plan.
Hall said she is fiscally conservative and does her due diligence before making decisions. She will listen to the concerns of the entire community.
“I know people have different perspectives, and I want to respect those,” she said. “I may or may not agree with them, but I do want to listen.”
The district is facing a budget shortfall after a supplemental levy failed to pass this spring. Hall said another levy is likely needed, though before then the board needs to get the district’s books straight to see where the shortfalls are. The next levy could be less than what was asked for before.
Hall plans to see through a forensic audit that has been initiated at the insistence of some in the community. She said it will be important to address any issues found in order to regain trust.
The school district has one of the lowest performance ranks in the state, which has been a frequent criticism. It has a 65% graduation rate versus the state’s 80% average.
Hall said it is more important to focus on the improvement rate, and the schools have shown some improvement.
In Zone 3, the southeast corner of the district near Spirit Lake, Elizabeth Glazier said she is running after watching the school board “spiral downward” over the last 18 months.
She hopes to bring perspective and professionalism to the board as she runs on a slogan of “Sensible, Responsible, Transparent.”
Glazier, 37, supported the recall and said Rutledge and Brown did not listen to their constituents or other board members. She does not support Durst, because she believes he is unqualified.
She would support a levy, but said it is more important that it go to the voters to decide.
Glazier used to be against levies because of misinformation about them. She said voters would be more supportive of levies if the board was more transparent about where the money goes.
Troy Reinbold, who owns a small construction company, was elected to the board in 2019. He did not respond to several interview requests.
He generally voted in line with Rutledge and Susan Brown, whose campaign donated $85 of leftover funds to him.
Both Reinbold and Glazier have been criticized for incidents in their past involving alcohol.
Before he was elected, Reinbold pleaded to a series of five DUIs going back to 1996. His third felony and most recent DUI was in 2014.
On social media, defenders of Reinbold have brought up an alcohol-related domestic incident involving Glazier at a family party at her house on Christmas Eve 2021.
Interviews with Glazier and witnesses in the police report say that Glazier punched her mother-in-law unconscious after Glazier accused her of fooling around with the mother-in-law’s ex-husband in her guest bedroom while she was engaged to another man.
Glazier’s mother-in-law told police she was talking with her ex-husband in the guest bedroom when Glazier stormed in and accused her of cheating.
Police responded to a call from a neighbor and found Glazier intoxicated and passed out in the snow.
The mother-in-law regained consciousness and went home before police arrived. She declined to press charges against Glazier, and no charges were brought.
Glazier said she has been sober since this incident and that the family has put it behind them.
She said the difference between her and Reinbold is that it was one incident in her home and she wasn’t charged with a crime.
“I would hope that the same people who were able to forgive and vote for Troy would forgive me,” Glazier said.
Zone 5 borders Washington in the southwest corner of the district and includes the unincorporated town of Blanchard.
Carlyn Barton, who works as an elementary school teacher across the border in Newport, Washington, was appointed to fill a vacancy last September. She faces a rematch against Kathy Nash, who also applied for the empty seat a year ago.
At the time, Brown and Rutledge nominated Nash after Brown disclosed that Nash had been the treasurer for her campaign.
The vote failed to break a tie, since Reinbold sided with Hall to vote against the motion. All four trustees then unanimously voted to appoint Barton.
Now the decision will go to the voters.
Nash and Barton describe themselves as conservative Christians.
Barton has generally voted in alignment with Hall. She did not respond to requests for an interview.
She is running on a slogan of “Integrity, Invested, Transparency.”
In a statement on her website, Barton said some of her goals are to comply with the Idaho State Board of Education and to promote anti-bullying education. She will not support critical race theory “or woke education.”
Nash, a semi-retired accountant, mirrored Barton’s concerns about bullying and critical race theory. She further decried social emotional learning and said the curriculum should get back to a “classical education” of reading and writing.
Social emotional learning, often abbreviated to SEL, is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work and life success, according to the Committee for Children, an organization that advocates for the teaching method.
Research shows that social emotional learning improves academic performance, according to the National Education Association and the American Psychology Association.
Nash pushed back on that idea, questioning why it hasn’t helped the district’s test scores.
“It is failing and needs a change,” Nash said.
She said Brown and Rutledge were doing a good job before they were recalled. She also said Durst “made a lot of good strategic moves” and is leading the district in the right direction.
“I think we need to give him a chance.”
Nash opposed the recent levy. She wouldn’t count out a future levy, she said, but there needs to be financial accountability first.
Keith Rutledge’s campaign donated $700 to Nash.
Nash herself is an active donor, having contributed modest amounts to Brown, Bonner County Commissioner Asia Williams, state senator and chair of the Bonner County GOP Scott Herndon and Ammon Bundy’s campaign for governor.