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State tries to take control from conservative community college trustees

State tries to take control from conservative community college trustees

by
Wayne Hoffman
April 12, 2022

The State Board of Education's announcement that it plans to appoint three new members to the North Idaho College Board of Trustees is nothing less than an attempt to wrest control from the remaining two conservative-elected board members. 

If the SBOE pulls it off, it would represent an unprecedented takeover of a local education institution funded and run by local taxpayers. The political coup would also be an attack on the NIC board’s effort to govern the school from the right.

It’s arguable whether state law actually gives the State Board of Education the authority to do this. The board is relying on a loose interpretation of a state statute that gives the North Idaho College board the authority to fill vacancies. The law says, “But if by reason of vacancies there remain on the board less than a majority of the required number of members, appointment to fill such vacancies shall be made by the state board of education.” 

There are two ways to argue that law. The first is that the State Board of Education gets to appoint trustees until a quorum exists for the five-member board to once again conduct business. In other words, the Board of Education gets to fill one of the three openings on the five-member panel. After that, the job of filling remaining vacancies would be the job of the NIC board. 

The State Board of Education has chosen to interpret the statute to mean that state officials will fill all three vacancies, the two that were just announced and the one created by the departure of a trustee who resigned earlier in the year over questions regarding his residency. 

Records show that there’s been a push for several months to get the State Board of Education to consider playing an expanded role so as to contain duly elected trustees Todd Banducci and Greg McKenzie.

Former state Sen. John Goedde of the leftist Republican ilk wrote the Idaho State Board of Education on March 22, urging the board’s intervention even though doing so would go against “local control.” 

“You may feel that locally elected positions should be dealt with locally, but that’s not what statute dictates,” Goedde wrote, noting that the attorney general’s office also — not coincidentally I might add — offered an opinion recently that says the board should fill all three vacancies instead of just one. 

A bill to clarify that the State Board of Education gets to fill vacancies until there’s a quorum failed this past legislative session. But the timing of House Bill 645 and its successor, House Bill 738, makes me wonder whether the “clarification” was largely a political ploy to reinforce the fact that under existing law, the State Board of Education could make its own slate of appointments to a locally elected board beyond the establishment of a quorum. 

Even still the board might also be getting a bit ahead of itself. Technically, the NIC board still has a quorum because there’s only one vacant position. Trustees Christie Wood and Ken Howard said their resignations don’t take effect until May 3. Any action taken by the State Board of Education to fill the vacancies before then would potentially be illegal. 

That fact aside, there’s only one reason for the State Board of Education to fill three vacancies instead of one. It’s to keep the board’s elected conservatives from again having the majority they need to govern the school.

As such, the move also raises questions , one month before the primary elections, for state officials and their challengers. The governor appoints members of the State Board of Education; the superintendent of public instruction is the only state elected official to serve on the State Board of Education); and the attorney general provides legal counsel to the State Board of Education. Which of the candidates support the state’s takeover of a local community college? Which do not?

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