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POWELL — Trustees for Northwest College voted Monday to renew the contract of embattled college President Paul Prestwich, who has been the focus of recent criticism by some faculty members, students and others.

Many were upset over a recruitment letter that Prestwich sent on college letterhead to Mormon teens earlier this year.

Trustees are searching for a mediator to help resolve disagreements among campus factions, including faculty and student tensions with Prestwich, but have not yet settled on an individual or a budget for the effort.

They hope to make a decision this month, with a goal of starting the process before the end of the spring semester.

Board President Jim Vogt said he hoped to have committee recommendations on a mediator by next week. Plans call for a special meeting soon afterward to decide on the mediation plan.

At the urging of representatives from several campus groups, including students, faculty and others, trustees decided last month to use a mediator to help resolve lingering issues arising from a series of conflicts involving Prestwich, other administrators, teachers and students.

Over the past several weeks, campus factions have debated free speech, personnel issues, self-governance and what has been called a “climate of fear” by those who both oppose some administration actions and those who support them.

At a meeting last month, faculty members voted to file a grievance over an anonymous e-mail that called for a “peace movement” on campus and criticized faculty members who had challenged administrators, said Elise Kimble, president of the Faculty Organization.

Kimble said faculty members had voted “overwhelmingly” to seek a change in a policy that puts the school’s human resources manager in charge of reviewing grievances, and that names the dean of academic affairs as the compliance officer.

Administrative staffers in those positions were among those who helped facilitate the anonymous e-mail.

Faculty members are seeking a policy banning administrators from assisting with anonymous, campuswide e-mails and are asking for an independent arbiter to settle future grievances.

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Prestwich reviewed the grievance, but decided that, “because the faculty organization was not an individual, we were not able to file a grievance” under the president’s interpretation of school policy, Kimble said.

She said faculty members are exploring alternative methods for resolving the issue.

The board also reviewed the college revenue outlook for the next fiscal year, which begins in July. A preliminary budget will be available next month.

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Early projections show the college could see slightly more total revenue for the next fiscal year than the current one, with total expected revenues projected to be $19.8 million, an increase of about $250,000.

That increase comes despite what is expected to be a drop of $1.2 million, or more than 30 percent, in locally generated revenue for the college based on property tax collections and vehicle registration fees.

That anticipated drop is expected to be covered by a projected increase in state funding of almost $1.3 million, coming from a combination of federal stimulus funds and a bump in per-student funding based on current and recent years’ enrollment increases, said Mark Kitchen, vice president for college relations.

The current school year saw an increase in Hispanic student enrollment of 41 percent and a jump by 36 percent in students over age 23.

Prestwich said enrollment increases in general, and particularly among minority students, were helped by Trapper Scholarships, a local program that provides additional financial aid beyond what is available from the state Hathaway Scholarship.

Prestwich said the Trapper program helps applicants “see where they stack up and what kind of scholarships they’re going to be eligible for, so they see have a better understanding of what the cost is.”

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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