Friday, September 15, 2023

ID: Fake Superintendent Fails To Get Real Certificate

It's an encouraging sequel to a discouraging story.

Back at the beginning of the summer, the West Bonner School District board decided they wanted to hire Branden Durst as superintendent, which was a hell of a choice because Durst is not just unqualified--he's spectacularly unqualified.

His LinkedIn account lists 20 "experience" items since 2000, and Durst seems to have bounced quickly from job to job until 2006, when he was elected as an Idaho State Representative for four years. Then in 2012 he was elected to the state senate, a job that he held for one year, until the press twigged to the fact that he wasn't actually living in Idaho (he blamed it on Idaho schools). He did all that as Democrat; in 2016, he switched his party to the GOP.

Then independent consultant, a mediator for a "child custody and Christian mediation" outfit. Then an Idaho Family Policy Center senior policy fellow. IFPC advocates for the usual religious right causes, but they have a broader focus as well: "To advance the cultural commission." They see the Great Commission in a dominionist light-- the church is to teach "nations to obey everything Jesus has commanded." And they suggest you get your kid out of public school.

Durst's current gig is with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a right tilted thinky tank that wants to "make Idaho into a Laboratory of Liberty by exposing, defeating, and replacing the state's socialist public policies." The run a Center for American Education which, among other things, maintains a map so you can see where schools are "indoctrinating students with leftist nonsense." They recommend you get your child out of public school.

Zero education experience. 

2022 was not a great year for Durst. After the Idaho Senate failed to advance the parental rights bill that he was promoting, Durst confronted Senator Jim Woodward with enough aggressiveness that Woodward called the cops on him. After blowing off a meeting with GOP leadership, Durst blasted senators on social media. The Senate GOP majority wrote a letter condemning Durst for "spurious attacks against members of the Senate, meant to coerce votes and influence elections." In a press release, GOP leaders condemned Durst and said his actions "demonstrate egregious conduct unbecoming of anyone, especially a former legislator and current statewide political candidate."

The "candidate" part refers to Durst's run for the office of state superintendent. He told EastIdahoNews, “Parents are tired. They don’t feel respected or trusted and they want some real change in their school superintendent. They’re all talking about the same things. They want to stop the indoctrination that’s happening in their schools, they want to (be able) to make decisions for their kids." He ran on three priorities-- end common core, stop critical race theory, and school choice ("fund students, not systems"). He came in second in the GOP primary, losing to Debbie Critchfield by about 25,000 votes. But he did well in Bonner County.

The proposed contract had some crazypants features. Only a board supermajority could fire him. District would provide a legal counsel for Durst and his wife. Plus a vehicle, a housing allowance, and meal service.
The board's choice was bizarre. The district has been through three superintendents in one year. The interim superintendent was Susie Luckey, who has spent nearly four decades in the district as teacher and principal (and a previous National Distinguished Principal). She was the other candidate considered for the job--the one that the board didn't hire.

Said one board member
 via email to The Spokesman:

“He has a vastly superior understanding of the legal, financial, administrative, and educational philosophy aspects of the job,” Rutledge wrote, adding that Durst is popular among Bonner County voters and “has the broad support of the nearly 13,000 residents of our district.”

The reaction was immediate, with the public showing up at the next meeting to say "What the actual hell?"

But Durst's hiring was contingent on getting some kind of emergency super-special superintendent papers from the state. Boise State, where he got his MBA, sent a letter from the head of the college of education to say that she couldn't recommend him for a certificate.

By August, Durst hadn't actually applied for the emergency cert because something something the state board, and was preparing to fight with the state over the whole thing. Promising that the whole business had much larger implications, something something Constitutional Crisis! In the Bonner County Daily Bee:

“That’s really what this is about. The constitutional crisis is now an unelected board — it was appointed by the governor in the executive branch — can tell any (school) board in the state of Idaho whether or not they’ve done something, even if they haven’t done it,” Durst said.

Durst, the board said, did not meet any of the five requirements to serve as a superintendent. Not one. Not even the "four years of full-time certificated experience working with students while under contract with an accredited school" one. Not the minimal two years of college teacher training. Turns out that being a christian nationalist isn't a qualification for leading a school district.

Furthermore, having reviewed the law, the board decided they couldn't actually issue emergency certificates for administrators, a thing they've done three times since 2015, including--awkward--Susie Luckey in her stint as interim super. That was different, said the state board spokesman, because Luckey held teacher and principal papers, while Durst's situation is "unique" because he doesn't have any qualifications at all.

Durst has taken all of this with the quiet grace and dignity for which he is known. On his blue-checked Twitter account, he has complained that something smells. "...this was a discriminatory act by a board run by those with a political axe to grind. They will be held accountable for their discriminatory actions."

Discriminatory? The state board is mostly (7/8) appointed by the governor, and Idaho's Brad Little has not exactly shown himself to be a raving liberal; plus he has both CRT and Trans bans to his name. But Idaho, like Oklahoma, is one of those states where the Democratic party is so weak that Republicans are forced to fight with each other. Bryan Clark at The Idaho Statesman had this to say about Durst, who they called a "serial political entrepreneur" in June when he was trying to establish his "own little kingdom."

The unifying thread is overwhelming personal ambition. The causes change, but what’s been constant is Durst’s belief that he should be given the power to implement his ideas, whatever they are that week.

There has been a second constant as well: failure.

Maybe Durst will hold somebody accountable for... something. But in the meantime, West Bonner schools are without a superintendent, and while that is undoubtedly a hindrance, Durst probably would have been worse than nothing. This tiny district of around 1,000 students, located in the Idaho panhandle, may want to consider just why it has so much trouble recruiting and retaining superintendents. In the meantime, Durst can go look for his twenty-second job. 

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