Press "Enter" to skip to content

Local vigilance too

Not Thomas Jefferson but rather the abolitionist Wendell Phillips originated the quote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” That applies not only in the case of national and regional concerns but local as well – as in the election of school trustees and administrators.

Consider this week’s hiring of a school superintendent at West Bonner School District, number 83, based at Priest River.

This may seem obscure if you live far away from there, as most Idahoans do. But stay with me.

The superintendency opened in March with the resignation of Jackie Branum, who was replaced on an interim basis by a long-time area resident and elementary school principal, Susie Luckey. The search effort yielded two finalists for the position. One is Luckey, who has a conventional and evidently uncontroversial background as an experienced public school administrator locally for two decades.

The other finalist is Brandon Durst, on whom hangs our tale.

Durst should be a moderately familiar name elsewhere around the state. He was a state legislator (a Democrat then, though he’s decisively switched parties since) and last year was a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, polling second in the Republican primary behind now-incumbent Debbie Critchfield. He also finished fifth of six candidates in 2018 for the Boise School District board. Those efforts weren’t helped by reports about his background.

In last year’s primary he positioned himself as well to the ideological right of the other two contenders (the then-incumbent and the now-incumbent) and talked in large part about parental rights and school choice, with a culture war edge. He has been a “senior analyst – education policy research” for the ideological Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose leadership has expressed sharp opposition to public school education, period.

After last year’s primary election Durst took a job with the Idaho Family Policy Center, which is self-described as “the only conservative Christian think tank in the state” and which said of its new hire, “An ordained pastor and member of Cloverdale Church of God, Branden cares deeply about promoting biblical values in government and culture.” And he noted on Facebook that he’s been working “to establish Idaho’s, and possibly the Nation’s, first ever Christian public charter school.” (Oklahoma recently got there first on the national front.) Durst has had academic classwork in education but has never led or managed or professionally taught in a public school.

You get the drift.

The contest for superintendent – this is about the West Bonner superintendency, remember? – has become a hot topic online, notably on the district’s Facebook page. One post backing him refers to criticism from “Good Government Bulldogs against Branden Durst who is interviewing for Superintendent, please note that this is yet another leftist/RINO group attempting to attack yet another excellent conservative candidate #VoteBrandenDurst and loosen the chokehold of the leftist regime on our tax funded schools.” You can take that as an indicator of who’s backing him: Republican Party organization people like (and probably including) those supporting the governing board at North Idaho College at Coeur d’Alene.

The anti-Durst side focused its message on a Don’t Do Durst page. The most striking piece on it may be tweets showing Durst’s enthusiastic support for Todd Banducci, who led that North Idaho College board over many of the months it has steadily demolished the institution and dragged it to the edge of losing its accreditation. Banducci and his allies were elected in large part through the help of local Republican leaders who also happen to be leaders in the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

So, what kind of superintendent – and what kind of a school district – does West Bonner want?

On a 3-2 vote behind closed doors, the trustees at West Bonner decided against the veteran local educator who already had been serving as interim superintendent, and instead chose Durst.

Prepare to be surprised if the West Bonner district doesn’t generate some really newsy headlines in the months to come. You might get a feel for that an hour south at North Idaho College, and ponder what can result when we’re insufficiently vigilant as we fill our public offices.



Share on Facebook