Idahoans value our public schools, as demonstrated by this week’s election — voters passed all but one education funding measure. I’m grateful voters stepped up to deliver crucial resources to schools where funding from the Legislature is inadequate.
Still, the most notable result was the successful recall of two West Bonner School District trustees. The district offers a cautionary tale of the damage that occurs when far-right politicians seize power. And it reminds us that ongoing vigilance is required to defend against extremism at all levels of government.
In June, West Bonner trustees, Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown, voted to install a far-right politician with zero school administrative experience. This superintendent holds fringe views, including support for censuring curriculum and voucher schemes that siphon funds from public schools to private and religious schools. His lack of experience, coupled with his anti-public education ideology should have disqualified him. Instead, Rutledge and Brown saw these as assets.
The superintendent’s first priority was personal gain. On top of a six-figure salary exceeding his predecessor’s, he asked for eye-popping perks like a personal vehicle, car insurance and free gasoline, a housing allowance, relocation reimbursement, and free meals. A red flag was embedded in his bizarre request for the district to cover legal costs for both himself and his wife.
Then came the mismanagement. Despite fierce opposition from the community, he advanced plans to combine the middle school and high school. He fired two administrators without cause (prompting a lawsuit) and replaced them with political allies, one of whom is the spouse of a vocal anti-semite. The State Board of Education warned he lacked the credentials to hold the job lawfully and educators fled the chaotic district.
Fortunately, parents, educators, and business owners sprang into action. Working across party lines, they publicized the superintendent’s terrible leadership and the lack of transparency from Rutledge and Brown during the hiring and negotiations. Volunteers knocked on doors and built a homegrown recall effort, gathering enough signatures to put the trustees on the ballot.
With massive voter turnout and by decisive margins, Rutledge and Brown were successfully recalled.
The efforts of the concerned residents were remarkable. Still, serious damage was done and the future of West Bonner Schools remains uncertain. In one of their final acts, the trustees amended the superintendent’s contract, making his removal more difficult.
It is imperative that Idaho avoids future calamities like this one.
In November, voters across Idaho will elect school board members. Extremist candidates campaigning today share the far-right’s objectives: to sow chaos, bully teachers, and undermine our schools. Idaho voters must pay close attention to these races and vote for candidates who will protect and improve our schools, rather than tear them down.
Idaho Democratic Party Chair