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NIC trustee asks State Board of Ed to intervene

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | May 9, 2023 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — With a decision about North Idaho College’s accreditation on the horizon and board dysfunction continuing, one trustee has asked the Idaho State Board of Education to intervene in the hopes of saving NIC.

Tarie Zimmerman was elected to the NIC board of trustees in November 2022.

Since then, she has publicly opposed the board majority’s decision to place NIC President Nick Swayne on indefinite administrative leave — an action that resulted in a show cause sanction from the college’s accreditor — and to nullify Swayne’s contract, potentially in defiance of a court order.

“During my brief tenure on the NIC board, it has been controlled by a three-member majority that appear to be determined to destroy NIC,” Zimmerman wrote in a letter to the state board dated May 1. “I have worked, to the best of my ability, to combat these efforts, but to no avail. We are at a critical point and without intervention from Idaho State Board of Education, I believe accreditation will be lost forever.”

Mike Keckler, chief communications and legislative affairs officer for the state board, confirmed Monday that the board has received Zimmerman’s letter, which is a public record. Read the full letter at cdapress.com.

No response is in the works at this time, Keckler said.

The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is expected to announce in July whether NIC will retain accreditation.

Until then, Zimmerman said she can’t stick her head in the sand and ignore the potential negative outcome.

“If the state board waits until we lose accreditation, it will be too late,” she said Monday.

Last year, after three NIC trustees resigned and left the board unable to function without quorum, Idaho law required the state board to appoint three trustees to serve until the November election.

But the state board has given no indication so far that it will step in again or what intervention could look like.

In fact, the board issued a statement last December saying it lacks authority over general governance of the college.

“By statute, Idaho community colleges are governed by locally elected boards of trustees, not the State Board of Education,” the statement said.

Zimmerman argues that the state board has “broad legal authority and oversight” over Idaho’s institutions of higher education, including NIC.

The Idaho State Constitution tasks the state board with “the general supervision of the state educational institutions and public school system.” Idaho law states the state board exists “for the general supervision, governance and control of the public school systems, including public community colleges.”

“There is no other legislative body, executive or judicial authority within the state that possesses the level of oversight and authority that the board does to prevent further damage to NIC and its students,” Zimmerman wrote. “Nor is there another institution with the same duty to promote the welfare of this state’s citizenry through education — and the welfare of citizens of North Idaho will be diminished greatly with a loss of accreditation.”

Zimmerman said the board majority’s decisions in recent months are illustrative of the governance problems that have brought NIC to the brink of losing accreditation.

She pointed to a comment made by Trustee Greg McKenzie at the April 24 special meeting where, despite a court order, the board majority voted to nullify NIC President Nick Swayne’s contract.

“When NIC’s accreditation is pulled, nobody cares who’s most at fault,” McKenzie said prior to the vote. “We’ve already lost accreditation. The damage has been done.”

Zimmerman said she doesn’t believe McKenzie misspoke and found his comment telling.

“It’s outrageous that they continue the behavior that is contrary to a good governing board and contrary to a judge’s order,” Zimmerman said of the board majority. “That’s operational dysfunction.”

She emphasized that she reached out to the state board as an individual trustee, not as a representative of the entire NIC board.

“I remain committed to acting in the best interests of the college and to complying with the NWCCU’s standards of accreditation,” she said. “I have full confidence in President Swayne and his administration for the operation of the college.”

At a community forum last week, Swayne said it may be impossible for NIC to regain accreditation if it’s lost.

“I can tell you that the NWCCU basically said, ‘If you lose accreditation, the chances of coming back, the phoenix plan, is really not a realistic hope,’” he said.

Swayne noted that the crisis at North Idaho College is not because of problems with finances or academics, which is the case at most other colleges that face accreditation loss. Rather, it’s because of nearly three years of board dysfunction.

No framework exists in Idaho law for how to manage the loss of accreditation.


Tarie Zimmerman’s letter to the Idaho State Board of Education

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Tarie Zimmerman