Monday, May 20, 2024

Banducci's agenda is too expensive

by CHRISTA HAZEL/Guest Opinion
| March 12, 2022 1:00 AM

After two complaints were filed against North Idaho College (NIC), the Northwest Community Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) accreditation organization delivered a devastating evaluation regarding the board of trustees' governance issues that jeopardize accreditation.

While the full board has challenges, many violations cited the board’s chair, trustee Todd Banducci’s behavior. Violations reference Todd’s personal mission to “root out the deep state,” poor treatment of women and other aggressive behavior. Supporting documents substantiated Banducci’s track record of creating unnecessary liability wherever he goes.

NWCCU’s peer review panel recommends probation status for NIC. They are seeking state oversight through the State Board of Education and the reason is mostly because of Banducci. If you are a conservative that believes local control is best, this is viewed as a step in the wrong direction.

We need to address this problem now, locally, with direct action.

Banducci was elected to be board chair in January 2021, with the help of fellow Kootenai County Republican Central Committee affiliated trustees, Greg McKenzie, and Michael Barnes, following their 2020 election. Trustee Barnes resigned in January, when we learned he might not be a legal Idaho resident. The Board now is split 2-2 along ideological lines and is paralyzed in deadlock.

In most nonprofit boards, the chair runs the meetings and signs Board documents on behalf of the entity. The whole Board selects the operating executive. Management is done by the operating executive, in NIC’s case, the President.

Banducci comes from a military background where the senior officer runs the organization, and everybody reports up to him (or her). Banducci is confused about the chain of command at NIC. The college faculty and staff do not report up to him. They report to the president. The board chair does not run the college, despite the chair’s ambition to do so. Banducci’s confusion about leadership authority has brought big and expensive trouble to NIC.

Setting partisan politics aside, we need a reality check. New details have emerged that must be considered if we are to restore public trust and preserve the college.

NIC accreditation was last affirmed in 2020, with positive remarks. Yet, NWCCU’s newly completed review less than two years later, identified at least 14 different accreditation rules and standards where NIC is out of compliance.

Immediate costs to taxpayers for Banducci’s scorched-earth approach is at least $791K+ and climbing. This includes a settlement for wrongful termination for $500K. The interim president is currently paid $180K —and not set up for success. The Pauly Group was hired for $22K to assist in finding a permanent college president. NIC has also engaged the search firm to find candidates for three administrative vacancies after a mass exodus for $89K.

NIC attorney time related to wrongful termination isn’t fully calculated. Quite frankly, this would be hard to extract given the hours of legal assistance this board now requires at every meeting.

NIC Foundation private donors reported concern and doubt about college board leadership. We now know how much Todd’s behavior and other board dynamics have contributed to lost financial support. This will significantly impact student scholarship awards for students who otherwise might not be able to attend.

Withheld donor dollars could be as high as $4.48M. That’s right: $4.5 million! The report states, “Information provided by the NIC Foundation indicated a loss of approximately $4.1M of lost legacy gifts, $343K of estimated Major Gifts lost, and another $36.8K of annual donations is in jeopardy.”

Banducci seems to be at the center of the controversy. The report cites distrust and deep rifts, specifically between Banducci and the Foundation. One curious statement in the report confirms details of a private informal settlement agreement the public may not have known until now:

“The current Chair of the NIC Board of Trustees is not permitted to be involved in NIC Foundation operations or fundraising, based on an agreement between the Board Chair and the Foundation.”

The agreement could be related to the Board’s censure of Todd in 2020 for aggressive behavior towards women on campus. The publicly disclosed document referenced an “informal agreement,” but no details were given.

More information should come to light on this matter, especially now that public resources are in jeopardy.

North Idaho is facing dark times if NIC loses accreditation. Recent economic modeling, based on research provided by the Coeur d’Alene Economic Development Council, suggests loss of accreditation could potentially result in — 1,300 fewer jobs. Every four NIC jobs creates one other job in the community.

Loss of accreditation could mean $60M less into our regional economy. This would devastate the small business owner relying on NIC stability for customers or workforce.

Banducci’s poor leadership has cost NIC over $5.2M in the last few years. The price tag for more of the same is simply too high.

Public trust requires transparency. College district citizens deserve competent leadership. Students and staff deserve stability. We must preserve opportunity and freedom found in a local community college experience.

The bottom line is clear: we cannot afford board chair Todd Banducci’s poor leadership. His confused judgement jeopardizes our institution, wastes tax dollars and limits educational opportunities for our youth.

Todd Banducci must resign.

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Christa Hazel serves as Director of Save NIC, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, committed to protecting North Idaho College as a resource for college and career opportunities.