UPDATED: State Board pledges to stand behind NIC’s students

The State Board of Education is concerned about North Idaho College’s accreditation woes, but “has limited ability to do anything about it,” board President Kurt Liebich said Wednesday.

However, Liebich also said the State Board will stand behind students at the beleaguered Coeur d’Alene-based community college, which faces new questions about its accreditation.

Liebich addressed NIC’s turmoil during Wednesday’s State Board meeting — in two sets of comments. First, Liebich addressed NIC governance issues; later, he delivered comments geared toward the college’s staff and students.

Liebich’s comments on NIC governance mirrored the board’s prepared public statements last week. Liebich said the day-to-day decisions about NIC operations fall to the college’s locally elected trustees.

“We are not the governing body for the community colleges,” Liebich said. “And I think that’s the right way to do it. … All we can do is encourage trustees to do everything in their power to preserve accreditation.”

Accreditation has a direct stake for NIC’s students — and high school students taking dual-credit classes at the college. If NIC loses its accreditation, students would be unable to transfer their credits to other schools. In addition, students would no longer qualify for the state’s Opportunity Scholarship.

But later Wednesday, Liebich sought to assure NIC’s students.

“Regardless of what happens through this process, the credits you’ve earned, whether you are alumni or you just finished your exams for the last semester, those credits are good, and they will be recognized throughout the state of Idaho,” Liebich said. “But in a worst-case scenario, and North Idaho College does lose its accreditation, what I will commit to you is that this State Board is going to stand behind our students and we will do whatever we can to ensure that there are off-ramps to other higher education institutions and that students have a seamless path forward to achieve whatever dreams they have.”

After a series of tense, tumultuous meetings, trustees have thrown NIC into a new round of turmoil. Trustees aligned with the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee have hired political ally Art Macomber as NIC’s attorney, placed President Nick Swayne on administrative leave, and made an unsuccessful bid to bring back wrestling coach and former interim president Michael Sebaaly on an acting basis.

Last week, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities said NIC’s accreditation is again in jeopardy. NIC officials now must respond in writing by Jan. 4, explaining why they believe the college is in compliance with accreditation requirements.

NIC trustees are scheduled to meet Wednesday night — with a lengthy agenda that includes a discussion of accreditation, the trustees’ decision to put Swayne on leave, and Swayne’s subsequent lawsuit challenging the move.

Other State Board business

The State Board took up several other topics Wednesday:

CSI taxing district. The State Board approved an Elmore County citizen’s petition to expand the College of Southern Idaho’s taxing district to include Elmore County.

The petition will be forwarded to Elmore County commissioners to call a special election so voters can decide. The college’s taxing district currently encompasses Twin Falls and Jerome counties.

If approved, Elmore County property owners would contribute just over $2 million annually to the taxing district.

Dyslexia. The board approved the Idaho Dyslexia Handbook for use in schools. Educators, dyslexia experts and parents created the handbook, which is designed to help educators identify dyslexia characteristics and provide educational support.

In a State Board news release, board member Linda Clark said the working group developed an effective handbook by utilizing the right specialists, Coding Dyslexia Idaho and Idaho universities.

The Board will work with the State Department of Education to distribute copies of the handbook to public schools.

Expanded training opportunities. The board gave final approval to a policy designed to assist and guide higher education institutions as they develop microcredentials and specialized certificates that students can earn outside of traditional career-technical certificates. The goal is to create more career pathways for students and to expand workforce training opportunities, the board said in its news release.

Idaho EdNews reporter Darren Svan contributed to this report.

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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