BOISE – The state budget crunch is crimping North Idaho College’s plans to launch a vocational program next year and update classroom technology, college officials told lawmakers Wednesday.
The Coeur d’Alene school had hoped for $605,100 to start a dental hygienist program in partnership with a free clinic. The college also hoped for $334,500 for the first year of a two-year campus technology upgrade.
Gov. Butch Otter didn’t recommend funding either item in his proposed budget.
“In a normal year, we would come down here with a fancy brochure” detailing all the things NIC needs, John Martin, vice president for community relations, told budget writers. Not this year. “We are not going to insult this committee by telling you you have to do things you can’t do. We don’t have a list of must-haves.”
Instead, Martin said, the college pledges to do its best with what it has.
The dental hygienist program could have enrolled eight to 10 students every five semesters. The Dirne Clinic in Coeur d’Alene planned to work with the college to offer dental care for uninsured and underserved residents and offer a clinical site to train hygienists, nurses and medical assistants.
The technology upgrade would focus on 81 classrooms, out of 152, that fall short of minimum standards.
Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, asked Martin if NIC has “a Plan B on how to finance those critical programs.”
Martin said the college is looking into grants and donors.
“We’re also going to wade into the waters of federal appropriations once again, to see if that can be done,” said Martin, a former member of retired U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s staff who recently was appointed to his position at NIC.
Martin was filling in for college President Priscilla Bell, who is recovering from surgery.
NIC receives about $11.5 million a year in state general funds. The college also collects $11.7 million in local property taxes and $9 million in tuition and fees. Those other funding sources moderated the impact of state budget cuts, Martin said.
A midyear state budget cut shaved about 1.3 percent from NIC’s academic programs, he said. Next year’s proposed 7 percent cut in state funds will mean a reduction of nearly 2.3 percent of the college’s total funds.
NIC is feeling the pinch and trimming costs.
“Capital equipment purchases or maintenance projects are going to be delayed or canceled,” Martin told lawmakers. “Reductions in personnel costs are probably going to be necessary.”
Already, the college has eliminated two full-time positions that were vacant plus 14 part-time positions.
Martin also outlined NIC’s expansion plans. The college, at or exceeding capacity, is buying adjacent land and working with three local school districts and the private sector on plans for a professional-technical campus on the Rathdrum Prairie.
“That would include a magnet high school out there, as well as our professional-technical programs,” he said.
Enrollment is up by more than 200 students from last fall, Martin said, and preliminary numbers for spring show an increase of 10 percent to 12 percent. “I suggest that community colleges are one of the few growth industries in down economic times,” he said. “People have the opportunity to come to us.”
That’s meant a crunch on classroom space. The college still hopes for $4.5 million from the state’s Permanent Building Fund to remodel a 1970s-era science building, Seiter Hall, into an up-to-date classroom building. That request was included in the governor’s budget for next year.
“For a quarter of the cost of a brand-new building, we can really help our capacity on campus,” Martin said.
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