CWI Staff Senate invited Vice President of Communications and Government Relations, Mark Browning, to visit their September meeting and provide insight on the Community Education Campaign. This campaign is dedicated to informing voters about the plant facilities levy for a new CWI Health Science Building. Members of Staff Senate came prepared with numerous questions related to the levy, the building, as well as additional inquiry for the Campus Master Plan. Browning has provided answers with explanation to those questions which is included here for your information.
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Q: Given that ISU has a Health Sciences education building in Meridian, why should the taxpayers pay to build another building instead of supporting and expanding what is already there?
A: We covered this one during our meeting, but a couple of points to remember:
ISU does not have the same open access admissions policies that are covered through CWI and other community colleges, thus limiting access (and increasing costs).
ISU does not have the nursing education assignment from the Idaho State Board of Education; that belongs to CWI and BSU. You would have to get BSU to relinquish their charge for advanced nursing education, eliminating need for facilities and subsequent revenue from BSU. Same with us.
There is a capacity issue for ISU as well. The building they operate in is more than just a place for Health Sciences, it is primarily a graduate education center. It would need significant renovation and space expansion which is not easily possible now, especially given the construction of the ICOM next door.
Q: Considering that numerous health sciences type courses were suddenly cut last year, how can taxpayers be certain that CWI is really committed to growing this field of study?
A: The programs (whether it was numerous or not is open to interpretation, but there were several) that were cut were all non-credit, Workforce Development programs. The programs were shut down pending a review and retool in order to guarantee the level of quality we demand here at CWI. All credit/degree seeking programs have remained operational, were not impacted, and remain some of our most sought-after programs, many with waiting lists for acceptance. Our commitment remains strong as with the stated (and forecasted) demands for positions in healthcare over the next 25 years, health sciences will always be at the top of our instructional priorities.
Q: Will this new building save CWI money?
A: Yes. Consolidation of instructional offerings allows us to operate at scale now and in the future. Additionally, vacating the health science offerings from other facilities (Canyon County Center, Ada County Campus, etc.) opens up much needed space we can now repurpose rather than having to secure new in the form of leases/rents.
Q: Why another levy and not increase the base tax rate?
A: The levy does increase the base tax rate. That is what a levy or a bond measure does. It adds to the property tax assessment base that comes to CWI. Additionally CWI does increase the allowed 3 percent annually allowed under Idaho Code. Our rate has actually gone down as the housing/property value market has increased in value. Our current rate is ironically lower than it was when we first opened our doors in 2009 ($13.50 per $100k compared $14.30).
Part of what we heard from voters/patrons/citizens/neighbors in 2017 on our summer listening tour was, “Don’t come to us and just ask for money, tell us what you need to be successful, why you need it, and what it will return for our investment.” For CWI to go to the voter to increase the base tax rate (more than the 3 percent annually allowed) to just increase operational funding is not a sound fiscal strategy and goes in the face of what our Trustees and Administration have established as core values of fiscal responsibility.
Q: After this building, what next….another levy? Will voters get tired of CWI constantly asking for money?
A: Right now our first and only building focus is the Health Sciences building. As for what approaches CWI will take in the future will depend on a number of factors; factors that are far from being determined in 2018. It is important to note that any effort now or in the future must be paired with reasonable and needed returns to the taxpaying community for their investment. Nationally, American Association of Community Colleges forecasts that more and more the burden of campus construction will fall to alternative financing means as states are divesting themselves of higher education building construction (both two- and four-year institutions).
Q: I believe you, Mark Browning, were quoted as saying, “We would love to keep the cost at an absolute minimum.” The voters didn’t decide on creating a community college to avoid spending money. They want something that works and understand that costs money. But they also need to know that their money is being spent wisely. The previous levy (bond) didn’t get much ‘PR’ about what was going to happen or how. A plot of land had been purchased at what was believed to be three times its value. Now that land in Boise has sat idle and even been offered up for trade ‘anonymously’, like someone finally realized they made a bad decision making CWI look extra bad. And here we are asking for more money to build at a different location. Then there’s the article about the lawsuit where students are asking for how their tuition is spent with CWI stating that they can’t or don’t track how class fees or tuition is being used. All of these things together paint a picture of CWI not being able to manage their money and people at the top that don’t really plan ahead and just assume they can do anything and it will work out fine. What can CWI do to convince voters this project is the right thing at the right time?
A: Yes, that is an accurate quote, and I stand by it. We will keep our costs to a minimum. We must. We cannot, nor will not, be extravagant in any of our approaches. That said, the statement about voters understanding that they know it costs money—they do. However, they also hold us accountable to be prudent and judicious in our fiscal approach. I do not believe these two approaches are at odds—quite the opposite. I do need to say that the overriding reason people, at nearly 70 percent, supported the creation of CWI was they didn’t want to overspend for education (only four-year offerings were available at the time) and realized open access through a community college was the answer.
As to whether or not the previous levy (it was actually a bond measure) didn’t get much PR—that is more a function of the private advocacy group being unable to raise virtually any money to support an advocacy campaign. The College efforts can and remain solely in an educational setting and as such are not designed to “promote” any effort.
The lot (old Bob Rice Ford location) that was purchased has been a continual source of discussion. Whether or not CWI overpaid remains to be seen. You never know what something is worth until you sell it. The Trustees made a decision at the time to purchase property with an eye to future to consolidate to two main campuses and to minimize wherever possible leases now and future and, as a result, improve operational efficiencies.
To the claim of someone anonymously “realizing they made a bad decision” is simply humorous to me. That’s a conspiracy theory I hadn’t heard. The property was never officially offered up in any kind of trade. Period. I can tell you that the anonymous donor who was investigating the possibility of purchasing the St. Luke’s location (formerly the old K-Mart) on Americana was/is not a member of the College, nor the Board of Trustees. Any speculation on a trade for the Whitewater property is just that—pure speculation and best left to the front porches and tailgate conversations that take place from time to time, if at all.
The assertion that the basis for a lawsuit from students who are seeking tuition refunds is because CWI cannot account for how those dollars are spent is simply without truth or basis. Several students in some of the non-credit, Workforce Development programs were offered a full fee refund or the choice to stay in the course with new instructors. Those who stayed, completed and were awarded the certificates they earned and found employment. In spite of that choice, a couple have returned to request a refund of tuition (fees) after the fact. I can tell you with great confidence that CWI has a very firm tracking and accounting process in place with regards to tuition dollars, fees, and all monies that come in and out of the operation. No college has ever gone nine straight years without an audit exception (finding)—except CWI. That is fiscal stewardship. We know where the monies go and how they are spent. Period. I do believe that voters appreciate the value we bring in efficiency and excellence in operational approach. Consider this brief fact; CWI, with an annual headcount in excess of 32,000 students, operates on approximately 66 million dollars. Treasure Valley Community College (TVCC) in Ontario, Oregon (and to a very small extent, in Caldwell), has an annual budget just over 57 million and recently cut six million dollars due to reduced revenues/declining enrollment. TVCC has a published headcount enrollment of just over 1,800 students. 1,800.
Q: It has been said that this new building will be able to handle 2,500 more students. Are there really that many more students wanting to enter the field each year.
A: Yes. We have waiting lists for our RN programs. BSU has waiting lists. NNU has waiting lists for their nursing programs. It is not just nursing, but all health- and science-related careers. You must look at capacity for now, five years, 10 years, and into the future.
Q: The levy measure mentions “other purposes permitted by law for school plant facilities fund”. What else might this money be used for?
A: That is a legal disclaimer needed to ensure that money needed to complete the project outside of the building itself can be used appropriately. Site preparation, surveying, engineering, etc. Rest assured no monies that may come in from the Plant Facility Levy will/can be used for anything other than those purposes here on campus.
Q: Two years ago Trustee, Stan Bastian, said he was “amazed” that the bond got 57 percent. Did the Board of Trustees even think the bond would pass? Bastian also said he would not be in favor of a 10-levy. What’s changed?
Context. Trustee Bastian made the “amazed” comment under the context of a discussion surrounding the little-to-no money raised for an advocacy effort relative to the 2016 Bond (less than $20k). Given that so little money was raised, he was “amazed” we did as well as we did.
The comment about not wanting to pursue a 10-year bond unfolded as such: There was discussion about the length of time (terms) that should be considered for future bond efforts. Given the fact that the State allocated 10 million for this project, contingent upon CWI raising the additional 39 million needed and that those funds need to be verified as existing in an account no later than June 30, 2019, that meant the entirety of the monies need to be in house by that date. That contingency effectively ruled out the ability to do a longer term capital campaign, say over two-years, to raise those monies as pledges for future donations are not statutorily verifiable until they are deposited. When the Trustees fully considered these factors, they voted UNANIMOUSLY to support a 10-year plant facility levy—Bastain included. That’s what changed.
Q: Since CWI can’t actively promote their levy measure, what can they do to inform voters of what will be done with the money? Can a third party pay for advertising?
We are statutorily required to do the following as a taxing district entity: Inform the taxpayer how much we are asking for, what the monies would be used for, and why we see the need for the dollars. That is what we as CWI can and need to do. We have an extensive educational campaign to that effect. You’ll better recognize this effort as “Training is the Treatment”.
A third-party to advocate for the passage of the levy does exist; CWI Yes!. They are a private entity and, as such, can and do advocate for the positive passage of the effort.