The City's Pulse Newsletter

Keeping Them Honest at NIC


In last week's column, I reported that the NIC Board of Trustees cut money from their number one strategic goal, Professional Technical Education. A response from the NIC Trustee Vice Chair, claimed my facts were wrong. She later admitted they were accurate but went on to make excuses for the Board's decision.

My information is correct and has been verified by multiple people within NIC.

The NIC Board lists Professional Technical Education (PTE) as their top priority, but they cut money for its operating budget. This is not the only contradictory action by the Board. They also cut $150,000 from student financial aid, a fact confirmed by phone with NIC's spokesperson, Kent Propst. Additionally, the Board is raising student tuition by 7.4% next year and raising student fees as well.

The Board's actions are not in line with the frequent public plea to keep our community college affordable for our students.

Affordability is a top public concern, as documented by the college's Strategic Plan Committee.  I attended the NIC meeting in May when this fact was presented.  Yet in response to this survey information, the Board increased tuition and fees, cut financial aid and cut PTE's  operating budget.  

These actions point to one conclusion, in my opinion: Students are not the top priority.

The taxpayers are not the top priority either, it seems. NIC's Board plans to take the maximum tax increase and pulled foregone taxes into their budget as well, which will increase the financial burden on all taxpayers of Kootenai County.  This tax increase is not just for a year or two, it becomes part of their permanent base, so the increase is forever. The Board is planning to pay $10 million dollars for the DeArmond Mill site but will not allow a public vote and has yet to engage the public in an open dialog to answer unfiltered, honest questions.

If the students and the taxpayers are not the main focus of the NIC Board, what is?  Well, they increased the President's salary and benefits to total $179, 250, which includes $1000 per month for housing. The Board also increased President Bell's expense account significantly and raised their own Trustee expense account too. All money left in these accounts carries over to the "Fund Balance" for the next year which the Board can use for any purpose.  As a matter of fact, the Fund Balance for this year is well over a million dollars but they did not use any of that money for their number one goal, PTE, which they could have.  They cut PTE the budget instead.

Please recall, if you will, the purpose of this column.  I promised to cut through unnecessary distractions and clear the smoke to discover the essence of the subjects. The personal attacks and name calling that have appeared in letters to the Press and on local blogs are distractions. They are attempts to divert focus away from the behavior of our public officials.  It's the old political move where, if you can't answer the questions, attack the messenger.  Well, I'd like to challenge the NIC Trustees to explain the decisions I've addressed in this column.  Please tell us why you have used our public money in ways that seem to contradict your goals and our wishes.  We want to understand.

Let's stay on-topic and work toward an honest dialog which will help our community. The heart of this matter is the accountability of the NIC Board of Trustees to the students, the entire college and the taxpayers of Kootenai County.

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Dear Newsletter Readers,

Above is my column that appeared in last Sunday's Press.  I have received many emails in support of my information but I also have the following email questioning my methods.  It is interesting because it comes from someone I know.  I will share the content of the email, not the identity of the source, and I will show you my response:

Mary,

I have been on the NIC Foundation Board for several years now.  I have been working very hard to raise money for NIC in the form of scholarships and grants and ask you to please take a look at the approach you are taking in an effort to try to inform the community about NIC.  I appreciate your concerns, but your approach is negating all of the work that we have put in over the last few years to improve one of Coeur d'Alene's biggest assets.  I would also encourage you to participate in one of our campaigns so that you can see the hard work that we put into the PTE programs and scholarships for students. 

Please consider taking a more productive and effective approach.

Very Sincerely,

______

Here is my response:

Dear ____, Thank you for the email.  I agree with you that NIC is important to the students and citizens of our area.  The concerns I have expressed in my columns about the budgetary decisions of the Board are in support of the students.  My questions have focused on the Board's decisions regarding increased tuition and fees for the students as well as decreasing the operating budget for PTE and cutting student financial aid. 

Please help me understand how asking these legitimate questions can "negate all the work" you have been involved in?  I applaud your volunteer efforts with the Foundation in raising money for scholarships and grants.  Any help the students can get is wonderful.  That is why I was especially surprised at the Board's decision to cut Grants-in-Aid by $150,000.  Is this action not of concern to you?

I'm sincerely asking you for clarification and would appreciate any feedback you have to give.

Best Regards,
Mary Souza

__________

So, Newsletter Readers, I have yet to hear back from my email, but will leave you to your own thoughts on this matter.  Have a great week.

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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner, former P&Z Commissioner and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues.  Her opinions are her own.

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