Friday, June 21, 2024

ID: Fake Superintendent Durst Sues School District

Good Lord in Heaven but this man just won't give up. Branden Durst, the least qualified superintendent ever, has followed through with his threat to sue the district that made the mistake of hiring him and then fired him. I'm going to re-present the whole saga here from a previous post and add the new chapter at the end, so if you remember Durst, you can skip down the screen. If you don't know about Durst, well, you're in for a treat.

Our Story So Far

Last summer, the West Bonner School District decided to go out on a limb and hire Branden Durst as superintendent, despite his complete lack of qualifications. That employment did not last long, but the tale is not over, because Durst has decided to sue some folks over it. I covered the story as it unfolded (here, here, here and here), but I'll go ahead and recap here, because this is an awesome tale of giant brass cajones and the belief that qualifications for education leadership include ideological purity rather than actual knowledge of the work.

Who is this guy?

The broad outlines of his career are pretty simple. Born in Boise. Attended Pacific Lutheran University (BA in poli sci with communication minor), grad school at Kent State and Claremont Graduate University (public policy, international political economy), then Boise State University (Master of Public Administration). In 2022, he went back to BSU for a degree in Executive Educational Leadership.

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. 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 most recent gig was 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." They 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 also recommend you get your child out of public school.

Durst came with some baggage. That one year tenure in the Senate? Durst resigned because the press got ahold of the fact that he was actually living in Idaho only part time; his wife was working as a teacher near Seattle and he was living there at least part of the time with his family. KTVB, the station that followed the story, "observed his home looked empty of furniture when stopping by to knock on the door last week." Durst insisted that his bed and clothes were there. And he blamed the split living arrangement on Idaho schools:

There's a big difference between living out of your district for an entire year, and having a family member who is a teacher that doesn't get treated well because they live in Idaho and have to find employment someplace else. I think there's a big difference, Durst said.

For a while, it looked like he would fight the charge. But in the end he resigned his seat.

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 East Idaho News, “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. Remember that name.

Durst had remarried in 2016 (in Washington state), and in 2022, his wife and ex-wife got into a scuffle that almost blew up into abuse allegations against Durst and his wife over a whack with a wooden spoon on a 14-year-old child. He explained later, “The child wasn’t being respectful, wasn’t obeying … It wasn’t even very hard, but things can happen in the political world where things get taken out of proportion, and that’s what happened here." Certainly his candidacy made the story bigger than it might otherwise have been.

But West Bonner was pretty desperate. They had been through three superintendents in one year, and the voters had sleepwalked their way into a far right majority. Durst's unsuccessful campaign had pulled 60% of the vote in Bonner County. Hence this justification for his hiring from trustee Keith Rutledge:
“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.”
Hailey Scott-Yount, a parent in the district, had a different take.
“Why on earth would you hire a mechanic to bake your wedding cake?” Scott-Yount said. “It’s terrifying.”
There was just one problem. Okay, one other problem.

The proposed contract was bonkers. It made him hard to fire-- the trustees would need a super-majority to vote him out. The draft contract also required the district to provide his legal counsel, requiring the district to protect Durst and his wife from “any and all demands, claims, suits, actions, and legal proceedings brought against the Superintendent for all non-criminal incidents arising while the Superintendent is acting within the scope of his employment.” The proposed contract also included a vehicle, a housing allowance, and district-provided meal services. Plus an ability to work remotely (like, say, from Seattle).

However, this was all contingent on Durst getting the state to grant him provisional superintendent certification. That's usually given to someone with relevant experience in education, but Durst said he'd like to see the process opened up so that districts can have "the flexibility they need to make the right hiring decision for them." One has to wonder what sort of district feels that the best fit for them is someone with no actual qualifications.

That was in June. The reaction was immediate, with the public showing up at the next meeting to say "What the actual hell?" He asked Boise State to recommend him for the emergency certification, and the head of the college of education sent a letter saying, "Um, no."

By August, Durst still hadn't actually applied for the emergency cert, but he was making dark noises, 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.
Then the Idaho State Board of Education said no.

In fact, they found two ways to say no. First, they pointed out that there are five requirements to serve as a superintendent, and Durst didn't meet any one of them. Not the "four years of full-time experience working with students while under contract to an accredited school" one or the two years of teacher training one.

Furthermore, they said, having looked more closely at the law, they concluded that they couldn't actually issue emergency superintendent certificates anyway.

Durst took all of this with the quiet grace and dignity for which he is known. On his blue-checked Twitter account, he 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." Remember, this is Idaho, not exactly known as a hotbed of powerful lefties.

Bryan Clark at The Idaho Statesman wrote the political obit on 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
But he wasn't done yet

Even as the voters were goggling at Durst's hiring, they were also trying to recall the wingnuttiest of the board members. Despite any number of nasty tricks, the recall succeeded at the beginning of September. But those seats wouldn't be filled until November, and in the meantime, Durst and the board tried some last minute antics, like moving to dissolve the school board at a board meeting scheduled at the last minute for a Friday evening of a three day weekend. It took a court ordered injunction to stop that nonsense.

The recall created another problem. With only 3/5 of the board left, any one member could grind things to a halt by simply not showing, and for the first meeting after the state shot down Durst's aspirations, the remaining conservative member did just that. No meeting held, no action taken, and Durst meekly slinking away--ha! No, just kidding.
But, Durst told KREM 2 he still is the superintendent.

"They don’t make the law," Durst said. "They aren’t the law. How many people could say that? That they don’t have to follow the laws of Idaho.”

Finally, late in September, Durst threw in the towel. Well, not "in" exactly, More like pitched it angrily at his detractors. Declaring he wanted an "amicable and fair" parting, Durst claimed in his Twitter-posted what-sure-looked-like-a -retirement letter, dated September 25, 2023:
Today, I am announcing my decision to seek an amicable and fair exit from my role as Superintendent of the West Bonner County School District. TGhis decision has not been made lightly, and I am fully aware of the challenges and sentiments that have surrounded my brief tenure.
There's another reference to his "short tenure," and a tenure can only be declared short if it's over, right? He also notes that "to promote healing and unity within the community," it is necessary for him to "step aside."
When my last day as Superintendent will be up to the board, until then, I will continue to work to uphold the district's mission and support student success.
Throughout my short tenure, I remained cognizant of the fact that not everyone in the community welcomed my hiring, and there were those who hoped to see me fail and did everything in their power to try to make that so, even if meant hurting very students they claimed to support. I was undeterred by the naysayers and their negativity only strengthened my resolve to do what needed to be done to put this district on a path toward success.

That brings us up to last spring

After leaving the district, Durst ran for County Commissioner in Ada County, but got walloped in the primary. And he was still apparently nursing grudges.

In March, he filed a tort claim (kind of a save the date for an impending lawsuit) claiming $1.25 million in damages. As unearthed and reported by Idaho Education News, Durst is claiming that the Idaho Board of Education's refusal to grant him an emergency certification "resulted in his loss of employment."

He is after compensatory damages on top of “punitive damages due to professional, emotional and reputational harm,” which is a hell of a ballsy move. "Hey, your refusal to grant me professional certification for a profession for which I am in no way qualified has damaged my reputation as a member of that profession." I wonder if I can sue someone for hurting my professional reputation as a brain surgeon because they point out that I am in no way qualified to be a brain surgeon.

Important feature of this story--one of the people he'll be suing is state superintendent Debbie Critchfield, the person who beat his butt back when he ran for that office.

So now, the newest chapter

This week, Ryan Suppe reported for Idaho Ed News that Durst has sued the West Bonner District for breach of contract. Yes, really. He's asking for $100K in damages plus attorney fees, claiming the district violated "an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Scroll back up and look at those bits from his exit letter. Does that sound like a letter of resignation to you? Well, that just shows how silly you are, because Durst's contention is that it was no such thing. Writes Suppe:
But the letter wasn’t a resignation, and the district breached his contract by terminating it, according to Durst’s complaint. He also accused “certain members” of the school board of publicly making “false claims about Durst being untruthful” and creating a “hostile work environment.”

“In order to address some of these issues, Durst wrote a letter to the board,” the complaint says. “The board intentionally misrepresented the nature and purpose of such a written correspondence and purported to treat the written correspondence as a letter of resignation from Durst.”

 Intentionally misrepresented? Every news outlet that reported on that letter called it a letter of resignation, probably because it sounds just like a letter of resignation.

Durst has hired the Shep Law Group, an Idaho firm specializing in personal injury cases (their actual url is 

Meanwhile, Durst doesn't appear to have filed the threatened lawsuit against the state. But who knows what Durst will try next. Is Durst going to break his long string of failures with this lawsuit? I'm betting it's not likely. Is that going to lead to him quietly sitting down and finding something more useful to do? I am betting that is also not likely.

1 comment:

  1. I just retired from teaching High School Biology in Arizona.
    As I sit on my porch enjoying the sunset with an adult beverage it is comforting to know that there is at least one individual out there tirelessly fighting for my right to become a certified welder, anesthesiologist, snake wrangler or any other profession I am totally unprepared for in the event retirement- or the sunset- doesn’t hold my interest.
    Well played sir!
    Well played!