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News >  Higher education

Race for the North Idaho College board presents two slates of choices

The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nick Gibson For The Spokesman-Review

Kootenai County voters are gearing up to decide who will lead North Idaho College following a tumultuous few years.

Tuesday will mark the fourth time the North Idaho College Board of Trustees will see a shake up of its members since the 2020 election. This time around, voters will determine who will lead the college as it deals with its accreditation status in jeopardy, declining enrollment and faculty turnover.

The contentious race for the three open seats on the college’s board of trustees features two slates of candidates.

Ron Hartman, Diana Sheridan and Mike Waggoner are the three candidates backed by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, despite the non-partisan nature of the election, and Tarie Zimmerman, Brad Corkill and Pete Broschet are the three candidates endorsed by the political action committee Friends of NIC and the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce. The two slates have yet to face each other in public forum or debate, because the Republican-endorsed slate opted not to participate in a candidates forum last month.

Zimmerman, Corkill and Broschet have vastly outpaced their opponents in terms of fundraising. According to data published by the Idaho Secretary of State on Thursday, Corkill has raised the most with nearly $17,000, followed by Broschet with more than $10,000 in contributions and Zimmerman with $8,700. Friends of NIC has raised more than $140,000, receiving their largest donation of at least $25,000 from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Hartman, Sheridan and Waggoner have raised around $9,000, $11,000 and $7,500, respectively.

Zone 1

Ron Hartman, a retired Tucson transplant, and Tarie Zimmerman, a financial advisor and mother of four, are contending for the Zone 1 seat on the Board of Trustees.

Zimmerman has been a resident of Kootenai County since 2012, and said she hopes to restore a sense of professionalism to the board. While this is Zimmerman’s first foray into politics, she has served on her local home owners association board and the Coeur d’Alene Lakeshore Property Owners Association. She believes her financial experience will add a fresh perspective to the board as it deals with loss of donations and support from local partners following the accreditation warning.

Zimmerman said she is a longtime advocate of education, and feels deeply connected to North Idaho College as someone whose own education path started at a community college. Zimmerman returned to higher education to become a financial adviser; she had stepped away from her career in aerospace engineering to raise her children. She considers the potential loss of the college’s accreditation status as the most pressing issue facing the college, followed by a need to earn back the community’s trust.

“I believe that the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is watching our election very closely,” Zimmerman said. “They’ve been watching those taped trustee meetings, and they’re waiting for the election to see what happens and who gets placed into that role. And if the wrong people get placed into that role, they will take action.”

Zimmerman said the accreditation woes have directly impacted enrollment at the college, which has been declining for years and saw a 6% drop this fall. She believes addressing the accreditation warning, and supporting the college’s new president Nick Swayne in grassroots efforts to restore the community’s trust in the institution, is the best way to address the decline in enrollment .

“I think that the Board of Trustees needs to listen to community members, and I think they need to treat them with respect and hear what they have to say,” Zimmerman said. “By having good board governance, and that means conducting oneself in a professional way with integrity and transparency, that will build confidence in the community and I think that will resonate with guidance counselors at the high school level and the junior high level.”

Hartman, a retired longtime employee of the Ford Motor Company as well as Caterpillar, relocated to Kootenai County in 2020. Hartman has been endorsed by the Kootenai County GOP and is running on a platform of “academic freedom.”

At a candidate event hosted by the Kootenai County Republican Women Federated last month, Hartman said he is running to ensure Christian and American values are instilled at the college. He told the crowd that concerns over the potential loss of accreditation are overblown, despite evidence to the contrary. He believes the steady decline in enrollment over the years is due to the college losing touch with the community’s beliefs and priorities.

Hartman also told the crowd of Republican women that faculty at the college are “indoctrinating” students, citing a rumor of an English teacher forcing students to write a pro-abortion paper in class. Hartman provided no evidence for his claim, and it has since been debunked by the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Hartman did not return numerous requests for comment for this article.

Zone 2

The race for the Zone 2 seat features a longtime local millowner with experience in education, and an entrepreneur raised in Western Washington.

Brad Corkill, owner and operator of Whiteman Lumber in Cataldo, is one of few trustee candidates with some political experience. Corkill served as the chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee from 2006-10, and served on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission for eight years. He also has extensive experience serving on a variety of boards and committees related to education, including the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the St. Maries School Board and the Kellogg School Board. He said he decided to run to ensure North Idaho continues to have the important resource that is NIC.

Corkill said he understands firsthand how important the college is to local employers and business owners who rely on the college to churn out qualified candidates to hire. One of Corkill’s most reliable employees was hired directly out of the college’s millwright program and has worked alongside Corkill at the mill for nearly 40 years.

“That millwright program has been very important to me,” Corkill said. “Having that college here, with the nursing program, the dental hygiene program and the workforce program, is very important to this community.”

He considers faculty turnover and the accreditation warning as the most important issues facing the college right now. Like Zimmerman, he believes addressing those issues and restoring the community’s trust in the college starts with ensuring the right candidates are elected on Tuesday.

Sheridan, an entrepreneur with over 38 years of business experience, said she decided to enter the race because the college is a resource to the community and it is in need of new leadership. In an emailed statement, Sheridan said steadily declining enrollment, declining property values and fiscal oversights are the most concerning issues facing the college.

In regards to the accreditation warning, Sheridan said in writing that the college already is making progress in meeting the requirements called for by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and that she is confident the accreditation is not in jeopardy.

Sheridan said NIC needs to be focusing on addressing declining enrollment, as she worries it could lead to a financial collapse of the college. She posits that building more student housing, focusing educational efforts on growing fields like health care and repairing relationships with community members will help address the issue.

“I would hate to see us lose this resource and its benefit to our community,” Sheridan said in an email. “The direction of this ship needs to be reset. A new direction, managed with co-operation and unified focus, will achieve different and better results.”

Zone 5

Pete Broschet has held the Zone 5 seat since May, when he was appointed to the position by the Idaho State Board of Education following the resignation of former trustee Michael Barnes. He is a lifelong resident of the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area, and serves as the director of human resources for Empire Airlines.

Broschet hopes to restore professionalism to the board and decided to run to ensure the college remains viable after a tumultuous few years. Broschet has served on the college’s aerospace advisory board for the past six years, and serves on a number of advisory boards for similar programs at schools across the country, including Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

Broschet said the accreditation warning stemmed from the actions and conduct of previous board members, and that it is not a reflection of the institution itself.

“I’d like people to know that they found no fault amid faculty, staff, finances of the college, or the curriculum of the college, Broschet said. “All of those reviewed well; it was the governance of the college that brought NIC into the state that it’s in now.”

Restoring the community’s trust in the college will be a lengthy endeavor, Broschet said. He commended Swain for his efforts to reach out to local students directly, and believes the board can assist Swain in rebuilding the college’s reputation by working directly with local business owners and community leaders.

Aiming to unseat Broschet is Mike Waggoner, who may be best known for his work on behalf of homeowners’ property rights in the Coeur d’Alene area from 2003 to 2012. A U.S. Army veteran, he worked for 45 years in “high level organizational roles where he was expected to set the direction of entire businesses, manage the construction of new facilities and to facilitate communication between sub-organizations” in the aerospace and tech fields, according to a news release announcing his candidacy.

Like Hartman, Waggoner has come under fire for making unfounded claims of “indoctrination” at the college. On his campaign website, Waggoner writes that he is “disturbed” about the rise of “un-American and anti-White programs” nationally and within the college, but provides no evidence of the supposed trend. His comments echo complaints around critical race theory and schools that are widely circulated among conspiracy theorists and the alt-right.

Waggoner did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this article.

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