(From For the Record, Saturday, August 12, 1995:) North Idaho College budgeted $325,314 for athletes’ tuition and fee waivers. The amount was wrong in Friday’s newspaper.
Many Kootenai County residents oppose spending their tax dollars on recruiting out-of-state athletes to North Idaho College.
When The Spokesman-Review requested opinions on the subject, an overwhelming number of calls were similar to this one from Al Hendrick of Rathdrum:
“They should be going to school here to learn,” he said. “If they want to be a jock, tell them to go to Moscow or one of the bigger schools.”
The current athletic spending practices, however, are unlikely to change in the short-term.
A board of trustees workshop scheduled for Saturday morning will focus on lowering the college’s overall tax rate, but not necessarily the $18.7 million budget.
Since the budget was presented to the board last month, an internal audit discovered that NIC’s carry-over from last year was $768,987, which is $329,068 more than the original estimate.
The difference could lower the tax rate slightly from $1.40 to $1.36 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That’s a savings of about $6 for the average taxpayer.
A secondary issue will be the athletic budget, said NIC board chairman Norm Gissel.
“We’ll have a much more thorough visitation of the athletic budget through the use of (an) advisory committee,” Gissel said.
College officials are putting together a committee of about 15 people to examine the role of athletics at the college.
That role was questioned at a recent board meeting, when some trustees scrutinized the increases in the budget for varsity athletics.
The proposed $604,535 budget represents an increase of 9 percent over last year’s, and accounts for about 3 percent of NIC’s total budget.
In addition, athletes are scheduled to get $384,814 in tuition and fee waivers, while the rest of the student population will split $59,500 worth of the waivers.
College officials said the financial aid for athletes had to increase more than 60 percent to make up for increases in out-of-state tuition.
“They just get so much money,” complained Erin Siemers, a 1995 graduate of NIC. “I had friends from Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene who would have loved to play basketball at the junior college, but they can’t because they’ve got somebody from Zimbabwe.”
Although complaints over the athletic budget helped prompt Saturday’s workshop, it’s unlikely much will change for the coming school year.
The staff contracts already are signed, and a portion of the financial aid already has been awarded. A big share of the maintenance and operation budget goes toward travel, and the season’s games already are scheduled.
NIC belongs to the Scenic West Athletic Conference, which requires some games in far-flung locations such as Utah, Nevada and Colorado.
Many critics believe NIC should seek membership in a less-competitive conference closer to home, while others value the college’s commitment to high-quality sports.
Lee Wheeler, owner of North Idaho Fitness, called to say that NIC could recruit more athletes locally and still have a high-quality program.
“Their money might be well-spent for better coaches,” said Wheeler, who used to play football at Eastern Washington University. “They (EWU) were just as good as anyone else, and they recruited just out of Washington.”
A handful of callers voiced their support for the athletics program.
“It provides excellent opportunities for tourism,” said Marsha Hagen. “It draws more attention to this area, and it provides entertainment.”
NIC’s athletic director said he plans to attend Saturday’s workshop.
“I’m obviously interested in what the public has to say about it,” Jim Headley said. “This is a good thing for us. It’s forced us to look at some issues that we’ve never looked at before.”
The workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon in the Kootenai Room of NIC’s Student Union Building.