The candidates drove home one word: collaboration.
Incumbent College of Western Idaho trustees and challengers spent much of Tuesday night repeatedly emphasizing teamwork over turmoil. But the candidates split on spending. Three incumbents — and one newcomer aligned with the incumbents — said they wanted to manage CWI’s budget and keep it intact. Two conservative challengers said they would look for budget cuts.
Six of the nine trustee candidates took part in a Nampa Chamber of Commerce forum, held in a classroom on the CWI campus. The forum came just two weeks before voters will fill four of CWI’s five trustees’ seats, in an election that could determine the balance of power at the state’s largest two-year school.
The nonpartisan election has taken on a partisan character, with four challengers running as a Republican ticket. And CWI’s elections come just two years after a Republican-endorsed slate of candidates fired the president at North Idaho College — triggering an exodus of senior staff and a drop in enrollment, and jeopardizing NIC’s accreditation.
NIC came up repeatedly during the one-hour debate. And two of the Republican-aligned CWI trustee candidates took pains to distance themselves from the upheaval at the Coeur d’Alene-based college.
“That’s their deal, and that’s a mess they’re going to have to clean up,” said Thad Butterworth, a candidate in CWI’s Zone 4.
Jan Zarr, a Zone 3 candidate, said he had no interest in dismantling or defunding CWI. “I don’t know where that’s coming from.”
But candidates from the two competing slates took differing views of CWI’s budget — which comes from a combination of state dollars, property taxes and student tuition and fees.
- “We are running a lean, thoughtful machine,” said Zone 2 incumbent Molly Lenty, who said any budget cut could force a tuition increase or a reduction in services.
- “We’re doing a really good job,” said Zone 3 incumbent Jim Reames. “I’d just continue that path.”
- Zone 4 incumbent Annie Hightower also said she would manage current spending, in hopes of continuing to freeze tuition at $139 per credit hour. “That is to ensure we have low-cost education available to students in the Treasure Valley.”
- Nicole Bradshaw — a candidate in the open race in Zone 1, running with the incumbents — said she did not want to jeopardize quality and affordability.
- In business, Butterworth said he has always been able to find places where a budget can be cut. He said he would take a similar “deep dive” into CWI’s budget.
- Zarr also said trustees can find spending cuts. He conceded CWI has the lowest property tax rate of Idaho’s four community colleges. But he said that rate should be low, since CWI can levy against a broad tax base in Ada and Canyon counties.
Other hot-button issues did not come up Tuesday night, although they have surfaced in the campaign.
Zone 1 challenger Alisha Hickman and Zone 2 Ryan Spoon have both criticized CWI’s presence at the Boise Pride event in September — although CWI says a student club attended the event, spending no tax dollars.
Spoon and Zarr have also pledged to combat what they call “agenda-based curricula” at CWI.
The candidates weren’t asked about Pride or “agenda-based curricula,” and neither Hickman nor Spoon attended the forum.
A third challenger, Zone 2 candidate Gordon Simpson, also did not attend.
About 50 people attended Tuesday’s forum. The Nampa chamber began working on a forum about two weeks ago, after hearing from numerous business people who said they knew little about the candidates, chamber President and CEO Mitch Minnette said.
Moderating the forum, Minnette acknowledged the importance of the election — and the consequences of turmoil at CWI. “It would paralyze the Nampa and Treasure Valley business community.”