NIC trustees resign; State Board will fill embattled college’s vacancies

(UPDATED, 4:25 p.m., with State Board comments.)

Two trustees have resigned at North Idaho College — leaving the embattled college’s board on a skeleton crew, and throwing the State Board of Education into the middle of the fray.

Christie Wood and Ken Howard will resign effective May 3.

Their resignations will leave the five-member board with only two trustees: Chairman Todd Banducci and Greg McKenzie. That would leave the board without a quorum that will allow trustees to do any business.

In a letter to the NIC community — an attachment to their terse, joint resignation letter — Wood and Howard blamed Banducci and McKenzie for a host of problems at NIC: from declining enrollment to a $500,000 settlement with ousted President Rick MacLennan. Wood and Howard also accused Banducci and McKenzie of dragging their feet on the search for a successor to MacLennan.

“As long-serving trustees who understand the opportunities that higher education brings to our community, we feel we have done all we can do resolve the existing problems with board leadership, specifically our board chair,” Wood and Howard wrote.

Friday’s letter continued the public feud between Wood and Howard and Banducci and McKenzie, Banducci’s one ally on the board. Banducci has been at the center of local human rights groups’ complaints about NIC. Those complaints, and other turmoil and turnover at NIC, have placed the college’s accreditation in jeopardy.

Last week, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities said NIC would retain its accreditation — status that allows students to transfer NIC credits to other schools, and allows students at the college to apply for state scholarships.

But the commission issued NIC a warning, telling trustees to shore up their governance of the college, and urging the college to address an exodus from top administrative positions.

The commission also urged the board to get back up to full strength, a directive that went unheeded earlier this week.

Trustees met Wednesday and interviewed 10 candidates to succeed Michael Barnes — a Banducci ally who had resigned in January, amidst questions about his residency status. But with the board’s factions at loggerheads — and Banducci and McKenzie locked in a stalemate with Wood and Howard — no candidate received the majority support needed for the appointment, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported Thursday.

“We had hoped we would be able to select a fifth trustee to help constructively address the leadership problems we have experienced in the last 17 months,” Wood and Howard wrote. “Unfortunately, we were not successful.”

Now, the State Board will step in and name replacements.

Under state law, the State Board fills a community college board with two or more vacancies. This happened most recently in 2017, when the State Board filled out a slate of trustees at the fledgling College of Eastern Idaho.

The appointed NIC trustees will serve until the November election.

The appointment process comes as the State Board appeared willing to defer to trustees to fix NIC’s myriad issues.

“We have reviewed the (accreditors’) report and findings, and we will be monitoring NIC’s progress in addressing the concerns and recommendations that have been identified,” State Board President Kurt Liebich said in a statement earlier this week. “We respect the authority and autonomy of the local elected board of trustees and we encourage them to begin the process of getting board governance at Idaho’s original community college back on track.”

In that statement, the State Board appeared to stand down a bit from a veiled threat to assume jurisdiction over NIC.

In December, the State Board urged NIC’s elected trustees to set aside their infighting and preserve the college’s accreditation, and reminded trustees that the board has statutory authority over two-year colleges.

“While the State Board respects the local governance of community colleges, it also has a legal and moral interest in the health of the colleges,” Liebich and State Board Executive Director Matt Freeman said in a letter to NIC trustees.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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