There’s a pattern in far-right school takeovers. Corruption follows the ideology | Opinion

Nicole Blanchard/nblanchard@idahostatesman.com

On Thursday, the West Bonner County School District finalized its contract with serial political entrepreneur and Idaho Freedom Foundation analyst Branden Durst. He will lead the school district, despite the fact that the existing interim superintendent was better qualified and had real experience in the school system.

Along the way, the district declared an emergency, a necessary step for Durst to get his own little kingdom.

Trustee Carolyn Burton — herself no liberal; she described herself as a “Constitutional conservative” — called the board a “fascist dictatorship” as it moved to declare a state of emergency.

(Remember when the far-right thought a state of emergency was tyranny? But that was when it was unjustified — to fight a global pandemic that has only killed around 7 million people — not in circumstances where an emergency was clearly justified — like giving your political ally a job he’s unqualified for.)

The hiring of Durst is sure to be disastrous for the students in West Bonner, which is why parents are organizing an effort to recall two of the far-right trustees on the school board, as the Bonner County Daily Bee reported. But it will be lucrative for Durst, whether this appointment becomes a short-time gig or a long-term position.

What you can glimpse here is a clear pattern in the recent effort on the far right to take over schools. And the pattern sends a message: Align yourself politically, and they’ll not only hire you, they’ll declare a state of emergency to do it.

This is hardly the first time something like this has happened.

Many of the same dynamics were at play when the former wrestling coach Michael Sebaaly, who multiple trustees have alleged is a personal friend of far-right Trustee Todd Banducci, was hired as the interim president of North Idaho College, which could lose accreditation any day.

“The process of hiring your best friend is just ridiculous,” Trustee Tarie Zimmerman said at one meeting, according to the Coeur d’Alene Press. “If Sebaaly’s not available, who are you going to go with — your next bestie? He was put into that role in the first place because he was your best friend.”

And the pattern isn’t just in Idaho.

With the takeover of the New School of Florida orchestrated by Gov. Ron DeSantis, there are efforts to ban left-of-center ideas and enforce a kind of conservative orthodoxy.

But there is also a $700,000 salary for the new college president, as the Miami Herald reported. The former Republican Florida House speaker got a pay bump of about $400,000 from his predecessor.

So there’s an ideological takeover happening, that’s true. There is a concerted effort to change institutions of public learning — K-12 schools, public colleges, public libraries — into indoctrination centers. (Often, ironically, under the guise of fighting indoctrination.)

But the accompanying development shouldn’t be missed. This is a return to machine politics, to the spoils system and to patronage.

It’s a message to all ideological compatriots: The public trough is open; dig in.

Bryan Clark is an opinion writer for the Idaho Statesman based in eastern Idaho.