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Failures, money may be motivation for NIACC President Dr. Debra Derr leaving North Iowa

NIACC President Dr. Debra Derr
NIACC President Dr. Debra Derr

Editorial by Matt Marquardt –

NIACC President Dr. Debra Derr may be on her way out of North Iowa.

Derr is listed as a candidate and one of three finalists for President of Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon, according to its website.

According to the Advocate-Online.net newspaper, a field of 38 initial applicants for the job were screened by a MHCC Presidential Search Committee and candidate forums will be held on Friday, April 5 in Oregon.

Derr may be on her way out of North Iowa for good reason.

First, NIT has learned that Derr is in line for what sources are calling a “golden parachute” for being President at NIACC for at least five years.  In 2010, Derr was awarded by the NIACC Board of Directors a $15,000 per year (total of $75,000) retention bonus if she stayed on as NIACC President for five years from her hiring in 2008.  If she were to leave early, Derr would not receive any of the bonus. Since Derr became President in 2008, her five years is up and she can now collect.

Derr's arrest photo.  Dealing drugs at the NIACC campus while his mother, Debra Derr, was President.
Brennan Derr’s arrest photo. Derr was convicted of dealing drugs at the NIACC campus while his mother, Debra Derr, was President.

Second, Derr’s son, Brennan Derr, was arrested last year for dealing marijuana and cocaine on the NIACC campus.  Brennan Derr was detained by local law enforcement on NIACC’s campus along with three others on January 17th, 2012 for illegal drug distribution activities following an investigation by law enforcement.  Court records show Derr got a suspended sentence but is now a convicted felon.

NIT has not been able to confirm that Brennen Derr was allowed to keep a low-paying job at NIACC following his arrest and conviction.

“Everything we do here at NIACC will have a positive influence on students and staff,” Derr told a NIACC student newspaper in 2012.

Third, Derr has been involved in a variety of organizations and endeavors with questionable or some might say dubious value to the people of North Iowa.

Derr is an ex-officio board member of the North Iowa Corridor / EDC, an organization that takes hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds and has brought no new industry nor any new jobs to the Mason City / Clear Lake area in recent years.  Derr told NIT last week in response to an email questioning the return on investment to Mason City taxpayers concerning the EDC that she is “a non-voting ex-officio member of the North Iowa Corridor EDC. NIACC does not provide funding for the NICEDC.”

Derr is also the President of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, an organization that took $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars to remodel a building in downtown Mason City and name it the North Iowa Commerce Center for use as its headquarters, where the EDC also calls home.  The Chamber only allows Chamber members to use the facility, which is decked out with granite countertops, a Frank Lloyd Wright theme complete with FLW lamps and large Mr. Toot artwork on the walls.  Despite severe budget issues, NIACC, the City of Mason City, and the Mason City School District all pay dues to belong to the Mason City Chamber of Commerce.  Derr traveled to Washington D.C. with the Chamber of Commerce and other North Iowa officials in February.

Derr is also a member of the so-called “Power 9″ Blue Zones committee.  “The reality is that NIACC has already taken steps to becoming a Blue Zone,” Derr told a NIACC student in early 2012.  The true cost of the Blue Zones project to Mason City taxpayers and NIACC has been debated in the community since its introduction.  Mason City officials claim that donations will cover much of the costs.  However, for example, the cost to paint pavement in Mason City this coming season went up by thousands of dollars due to a Blue Zones requirement for bike lanes to be painted on some streets.  The budget item only shows “pavement painting” and does not mention Blue Zones.

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From the  Mt. Hood Community College website:

Dr. Debra A. Derr
Dr. Derr began her community college career as an adult returning student over 30 years ago. Derr has served as a senior administrator in the states of Oregon and Wisconsin before assuming the presidency of North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in 2008. She has held positions at Clackamas Community College and Mt. Hood Community College working with students with disabilities, advising and counseling students, teaching psychology and student development courses, and administering student affairs programs always with a focus on student success.

Before coming to NIACC, Dr. Derr served as Vice President for Learner Success at Madison College, in Madison, Wisconsin and Vice President for Student Development and Services at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Oregon. She has held numerous leadership positions both nationally and on a statewide basis to include President of the National Council on Student Development. While a Senior Fellow at the University of Wisconsin Madison, she lectured regularly on technical and community college governance issues. Derr is currently a member of the AACC Commission on Communications and Marketing and the AACC Presidents’ Academy Executive Committee. She is a member of the 21st Century Commission on Community Colleges Committee on Community College/K-12 Collaboration for College Readiness and the board of the Association of College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. In Iowa, Derr sits on the Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Board, the Iowa Innovations Council, the Iowa Coordinating Council for Post High School Education, the Senior-Year Plus Advisory Committee and is president-elect of the Iowa Community College Presidents’ Association. Locally, Derr is president of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce, is a member of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corporation and serves as a member of the Mason City Blue Zones Project Power of 9.

The breadth of Dr. Derr’s experience includes championing continuous quality improvement efforts, strategic and enrollment management planning, local and statewide diversity efforts, workforce and economic development initiatives, faculty innovation, and numerous strategies in support of academic preparedness and student success and completion.

Derr is proud of the recognitions NIACC has received during her presidency to include: ranking 14th in the nation for student completion by College Measures(2012); being identified by the Aspen Institute as one of the top 120 community colleges for student success and completion (2012); successful passage of a ten year instructional equipment levy (2010); ranking 16th in the nation for community college endowments (2010); receiving the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship Innovation Award (2010); and being recognized as a MetLife Foundation Community College Excellence Award winner (2010).

Dr. Derr holds a B.A. in Business Administration from Linfield College (OR), a M.S. in Counseling from Portland State University (OR), and an Ed.D. in Community College Leadership/Higher Education Administration from Oregon State University.

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