West Ada school board will soon choose a new trustee. Here are the finalists

·7 min read

West Ada trustees are preparing to once again appoint a new member to the board after the former chair announced his resignation last month.

Rusty Coffelt, the former Zone 4 trustee who was appointed to the board last year and elected as chair in January, said in his resignation letter he was leaving the board due to personal family matters that require him to leave Idaho.

Two candidates have applied to fill the role: David Binetti, a management consultant who founded the West Ada Parents Association and led much of the push to make masks optional in the district; and Brad Ehrlich, a founder, board member and CEO of Providence Venture, a company in the fitness space.

Both candidates cited several priorities they’d have in the role, including managing growth and listening to the community.

This is the second spot the board will fill this year. In February, trustee and former board chair Amy Johnson announced her resignation. Lucas Baclayon, a former teacher and education administrator, was appointed to her spot.

In a public Facebook post earlier this month, Johnson accused Binetti of threatening school officials and having outbursts during meetings with trustees. Binetti fervently denied the allegations and said it was a “distraction” as trustees consider who will best represent Zone 4.

Binetti says he wants to improve trust

Binetti said he applied for the role because he wants to do everything he can for kids in the district.

“I think really it comes down to my mantra, which is, it’s all about the kids,” Binetti told the Idaho Statesman. “That’s what it’s always been for me.”

Last year, he started the West Ada Parents Association, which is now made up of nearly 4,000 parents, according to its website. He became known in the district for wearing a yellow shirt to meetings after initially creating the “Smile West Ada” group, which pushed to make masks optional in the district during the coronavirus pandemic.

Masks were made optional in West Ada schools after Thanksgiving, when COVID-19 vaccines were available for kids between ages 5-11. The issue spurred controversy in the district, with some parents arguing masks were needed to keep students and staff safe, while others saying parents deserve to have a choice in the safety protocols their kids follow.

Binetti said he has a lot of experience being an effective communicator and organizer, and advocating for the kids in the district.

His priorities include managing growth, retaining and attracting talent, and increasing trust in the district. As the region grows, that impacts the experience students have in school, he said.

Binetti also said it was important, when thinking about retaining and attracting teachers, to look beyond some of the most obvious factors, such as competitive salaries — which are important, he said. In talking with teachers and union representatives, he said one thing he heard was that teachers wanted to feel like they had support and were able to do their jobs effectively.

Increasing trust in the district will involve being proactive, he said. That includes going out into the community, meeting with constituents and listening.

“There are no restrictions on the amount you can listen,” he said. “Even if at the end you don’t reach the same conclusion … you have the opportunity to establish a relationship, to open lines of communication.”

Binetti said he’s not concerned that the board is made up of primarily new members. Once trustees appoint a new board member to represent Zone 4, four out of the five board members will have been sworn in this year. Instead, Binetti said a new board offers new perspectives and the opportunity to find “creative and innovative” solutions to problems.

He cited a quote attributed to Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and former U.S. Navy rear admiral: “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

Binetti denies Johnson’s accusations

In a public Facebook post, Johnson said she hopes the board doesn’t appoint Binetti to be a trustee and accused him of “egregious threatening, harassing, and disruptive actions.”

Binetti said he was saddened to see the accusations made against him and said he felt it was unfair to the board, to the district and to his opponent.

“This is really about Dave and Brad as choices for Zone 4 representative, and who’s going to be the best choice for our kids and that’s where I want the focus to be,” he said.

Johnson said Binetti had threatened trustees, and pointed to meetings and conversations she said he had with current and former board members and with Superintendent Derek Bub. During those meetings, Johnson said, Binetti had raised his voice in a threatening way, pounded his fists or acted “visibly unstable and angry.”

She also said he called her cellphone, threatened and harassed her “via electronic means” and “sent egregious and false emails to the CEO of the company I worked for.”

In response, Binetti denied all of the accusations.

“I can only point out the obvious: why would she and others agree to meet repeatedly with someone threatening, aggressive, emotionally unstable and ‘truly scary’?” Binetti wrote in an email to the Statesman. “The appropriate response is to distance oneself from such individuals and perhaps contact law enforcement — not to agree to sit down for lunch (which we did as recently as October, just before the election).“

Binetti also denied ever contacting Johnson’s employer. He provided the Statesman with copies of emails and text messages with Johnson.

“I submit that no reasonable person would find any of this communication anything less than cordial,” he said.

When asked for comment from Bub about the allegations, a West Ada spokesperson declined to comment. Trustee Rene Ozuna also declined to comment further on the allegations and said the focus should stay on the kids. Johnson could not be reached for further comment.

Ehrlich points to growth, pandemic recovery

Binetti’s opponent, Ehrlich, said on his application for the position that he applied for the role because he has time to devote to the community and believes his experiences will make him an asset. He said he also has two daughters in high school and two who will be starting elementary school.

In the role, he said he wants to create a “contingency plan” for how the board should deal with contentious issues moving forward.

“My priority for the West Ada school board is to continue the progress of emerging from the shadow of the pandemic while working to reframe the board, and thereby the district, in a more flattering light,” he wrote in his application.

He also said he wants to find solutions to handling the growth in the district. Ehrlich said he thinks the district can use public-private partnerships, and can “seek out alternative funding to alleviate the burden.” West Ada officials expect to need several more schools over the course of the next decade as more families move to the region and schools fill beyond capacity.

Another priority, he said, is to “remedy the effects of the pandemic on academic growth.”

For his long-term vision for the district, he said he hopes West Ada can become a “true partner with parents and the community.” Families in Zone 4 felt the board wasn’t listening to them throughout the pandemic, he said, and he hopes to change that.

“We need our voices to reflect theirs, and the only way that can happen is if we proactively work on creating an ecosystem where ideas can be exchanged, voices are heard, mutual ground is found and action is taken,” he wrote.

Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho Statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is partly funded through community support. Click here to donate.

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