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NIC trustees Howard and Wood announce resignation; Idaho Board of Education will select successors

North Idaho College (FILE PHOTO)
North Idaho College
North Idaho College (FILE PHOTO)

The drama surrounding the North Idaho College Board of Trustees escalated Friday, as two of the panel’s four members announced their resignation.

Ken Howard and Christie Wood announced their decision to step down in a joint letter released Friday. Their departure will leave the board without enough members to have a quorum. The bombshell announcement allows the Idaho State Board of Education to step in and pick three new trustees to bring the board back to full membership.

In their resignation letter, Howard and Wood placed responsibility at the feet of Board Chair Todd Banducci and Vice-Chair Greg McKenzie. From early 2021 until January of this year, Banducci and McKenzie formed two-thirds of a conservative voting majority on the board. It was that majority that fired former NIC President Rick MacLennan last fall. The majority’s behavior also weakened the college’s financial status and created an atmosphere of mistrust and skepticism across campus, according to an investigation ordered by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

“As long serving trustees who understand the opportunities that higher education brings to our community[,] we feel we have done all we can do to resolve the existing problems with Board leadership, specifically our Board Chair,” Howard and Wood wrote.

Earlier this month, NWCCU decided not to put NIC on probation, but the school was placed on warning. One of NWCCU’s requirements for NIC to remove the warning status was to fill a vacancy on the board. The vacancy was created when the third member of the conservative bloc, Trustee Michael Barnes, resigned over questions about his residency. But despite interviewing ten candidates this week, the remaining four trustees failed to pick a successor. That was apparently a final straw, according to Howard and Wood’s letter.

“We had hoped we would be able to select a fifth trustee to help constructively address the leadership problems we have experienced in the last 17 months,” Howard and Wood’s letter said. “Unfortunately, we were not successful.”

Wood and Howard acknowledged NIC faculty and staff for continuing to educate the student body “while dealing with poor leadership from Board members and the current Board chair.”

“Our community deserves better as we face many critical challenges ahead,” the departing trustees wrote.

In normal circumstances, the five NIC trustees are elected by voters in Kootenai County. In the case of a resignation, such as Barnes’, the remaining trustees are tasked with picking a successor. But the departure of Howard and Wood brings the board below a quorum, which allows the state to step in.

“The State Board will soon release an announcement seeking applications from residents of each of the soon-to be vacant community college trustee zones at North Idaho College,” Idaho State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman said in a statement Friday afternoon.

Freeman said the state board will look to the process that was used to create the inaugural Board of Trustees at the College of Eastern Idaho in 2017.

“In that search, an ad-hoc committee comprised of three Board members, evaluated candidates and made recommendations to the full Board who then approved appointments for each trustee zone,” Freeman said.

According to Freeman, the trustees selected by the state board will serve until elections in November.

In a brief message to the campus, North Idaho College Interim President Michael Sebaaly called Wood and Howard’s resignation “clearly unexpected.”

“As you can imagine, I will be working with our trustees and the State Board of Education on next steps as our Board of Trustees will fall below a quorum, starting May 3rd,” Sebaaly wrote.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.