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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West Bonner school district replaces recalled trustees

The West Bonner School Board appointed replacements Monday evening for two trustees who were recalled in August, reinforcing a backlash by moderates in the embattled school district.

The newest board members are Sonja “Ann” Yount, a daycare owner and Priest River city councilwoman; and Paul Turco, a parent and coach who works for an ATM company. They replace former chair Keith Rutledge and vice chair Susan Brown, who were ousted by more than 60% of voters in the Aug. 29 recall election.

“This is what we’ve been working for, to get some common sense on the board,” Candy Turner, one of the recall organizers, said after the meeting.

The remaining three trustees interviewed five applicants for the empty seats in a public meeting at Priest River Lamanna High School.

The appointments were approved 2-1. Trustee Troy Reinbold, who was generally aligned with the two recalled trustees, voted against the appointments.

All three trustees said it was a difficult decision and that the applicants scored closely to each other.

“Seems like everybody is capable of being on the board,” Reinbold said. He preferred Brad Cossette over Turco because of his experience.

Cossette is a retired physical education teacher who taught for 39 years in Spokane Public Schools. He holds a master’s degree in administration and curriculum development from Gonzaga University.

After a long pause, interim chair Margaret Hall cast the deciding vote in favor of Turco. She agreed Cossette had the experience but Turco, a father of two elementary students in the district, had the passion.

Hall said weighing who would be best to bring the divided community back together was part of her decision. She also acknowledged Turco supported the recall.

“Simply, I care,” Turco said when asked by the board why he applied. “I have kids in this school district. I coach many of these kids. When you do that, you gain a personal relationship with them, their families, the community.”

Turco emphasized the importance of communication in rebuilding trust.

Both Turco and Yount indicated support for levies to recover the district’s financial shortfalls. School levies were a major point of contention among the recalled trustees, who opposed a $4.7 million levy that failed in May and slashed a third of the school district’s budget.

Yount was chosen over Wendy Eaton, who works for Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschool program.

“I love this community,” said Yount, who has four grandchildren in the district. “I know so many of the people here and I want to see it succeed.”

Turco and Yount will be sworn in and seated at the next regular meeting, scheduled for Nov. 15. Their terms expire in January 2026.

The decisions were met with applause and hugs among parents in the full high school cafeteria.

Only applicants who live in the vacant zones could apply for the appointments. Trustees Carlyn Barton, Hall and Reinbold are each running against challengers from their zones in next week’s general election.

Before the interviews, the board unanimously approved a contract for interim superintendent Joseph Kren who replaces Branden Durst after the board accepted his resignation last week. Kren’s contract is effective for 90 working days through March 20, 2024, with a pro-rated salary of $46,000.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Kren said. “This is a special place with special people and it’s time to come together.”

Kren retired in 2020 after working since 2016 as principal of Priest River Lamanna High School. Before that, he was superintendent of other North Idaho school districts in St. Maries and Potlatch.

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.