Commission releases names of finalists, but not their professional backgrounds

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission named its finalists to interview for director two days after its public meeting to select them. 

The finalists are Monica Church, Michelle Dunstan and Jacob Smith. The commission would not share their professional backgrounds. 

As the state’s largest charter school authorizer, the charter commission director leads a team monitoring academic and financial outcomes for 66 schools across the state. The director’s position has been unstable since March — two director resignations and a current interim director. 

When the commission declined to release finalists’ names following an executive session, Idaho Education News submitted a public record’s request for their names and professional experience contained in their resumes. 

The commission’s interim director Alex Adams, the state’s budget director, has shared EdNews’ request for their professional experience with the deputy attorney general and will respond Thursday, he told EdNews in an email. Adams believes Idaho Code 74-106(1) protects their resumes from public disclosure.

“As I do not currently have written consent from the applicants, I am unable to fulfill at this time,” Adams told EdNews. 

The director is a state employee compensated with taxpayer dollars. The position pays $108,000 to $118,500 annually, according to the job listing.

The charter commission scheduled a special meeting next Thursday at 1 p.m. to interview the candidates. EdNews was told that those interviews will likely take place in executive session.

Monica Church, Michelle Dunstan and Jacob Smith

The three candidates

EdNews was able to find basic background information using social media posts and agency websites but was unable to verify the information from the commission or the candidates.

Church is the executive director of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University. She is a strong advocate for “youth voices, democratic values and the environment.” A longtime educator and public servant, she holds degrees in philosophy, history, secondary social studies education, and a master’s in education leadership and administration.

Dunstan is a former education director at Anser Charter School in Boise. She’s also served as a community based curriculum director and elementary teacher. She holds a master’s in education leadership and administration and a bachelor’s in elementary education from Boise State University, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Smith is the charter commission’s finance program manager. Prior to joining the commission staff in 2022, he spent over 13 years as the director of operations for Idaho Digital Learning Alliance. During his tenure as director, he provided support and oversight of the school’s finances, budgets, facilities, policies and human resources. He has degrees in business administration and in accounting from Boise State University.

Monday’s executive session

During a 30-minute, closed-door executive session Monday, the commissioners said they made a decision to narrow their search for a new director to three candidates, from a pool of 16. 

After the board returned to an open session, a motion was made to select “their top three candidates” to interview next week. The motion did not include their names and it passed unanimously. 

Commission chairman Alan Reed told EdNews that deputy attorney general Tim Davis said to “use a number” when referring to the applicants, because that is a “personnel matter.”

When asked for the names after the meeting, Davis told EdNews that their resumes could not be released but their names are public record. 

Those names were not released to EdNews until late Wednesday evening by Adams and he declined to include their professional background history. He said in an email that EdNews would have to take the commission to Ada County District Court to compel the agency to release the information. EdNews asked Adams to reconsider his position and he said he’d take EdNews’ argument back to the attorney general’s office. EdNews will continue to pursue the information because Idaho law indicates that professional background — such as work history, education and place of employment — is public record. 

Idaho Code 74-106 reads in part that all personnel records of a current or former public official are not considered public record, “other than the public official’s public service or employment history, classification, pay grade and step, longevity, gross salary and salary history … status, workplace and employing agency.”

The requested background from their resumes are not part of the exempt portion. The Public Records Law Manual buttresses Idaho Code 74-196 and includes an admission that “the Legislature acknowledges that there is some loss of privacy when one accepts a position supported by public money.” 

Adams stepped in as interim director following the resignation of two directors in the span of five months. Nichole Hall resigned in August after less than two months on the job to accept another position. She had replaced Jenn Thompson, who resigned in March alongside former commissioner Brian Scigliano in protest of board decisions they deemed irresponsible.

EdNews Data Analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan is based in North Idaho and has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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