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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Budget for GCC mysteriously improving

By Matt Brabb
Connection Editor

The fiscal outlook for Gila Community College (GCC) has apparently improved according to board chairman Bob Ashford. He warned however, that a number of sources of money available to the college this year might not be available next year, leaving the school in a still precarious financial position.

While saying that there was no guarantee, Ashford predicted that the college could finish anywhere between $50,000 to $70,000 in the black at semester’s end. He credited a reduction in staff and wages, an increase in tuition, and no capital expenditures for the massive turnaround.

He cautioned, however, that money including $400,000 by way of a nursing grant, $200,000 through Eastern Arizona College (EAC), and another $300,000 in assistance from Gila County would likely be unavailable next year. That could leave the college in dire fiscal straits again.

Dr. Larry Stephenson, a Payson campus board member seemed dubious about Ashford’s calculations.

“After I looked at it, I could not determine that we are going to make money in a year or two,” he said.

The confusion is not surprising, as estimates concerning this year’s GCC budget have ranged from a $2 million deficit, to an adjusted $750,000 deficit, and now a small surplus.

The other Payson campus board member, Tom Loeffler (pictured at left), questioned the idea that raising student tuition and cutting waivers for seniors had been effective cost-saving measures. He pointed out that tuition revenue had actually declined by some $50,000 due to a 26 percent drop in enrollment.

The college did save money however, through staff furloughs and a decrease in instructor pay resulting from the reduced enrollment. Instructors at GCC are paid based on headcount in their classes.

Loeffler would like to see the three deans that run GCC be directly employed by GCC, rather than be contract employees at EAC. Making the switch could save the college nearly $90,000.

An item on the agenda concerning the hire of a new assistant for the board became the most contentious matter discussed. Ashford wanted to table the motion without discussion because he had not been able to complete a job description for the position yet.

Both members representing Payson were adamant in their desire to discuss the matter, even if no action could be taken on it that day.

Loeffler had prepared a detailed analysis that he wanted the board to consider, but Ashford balked, saying that what Loeffler wanted to present went far beyond, strictly speaking, what the board agenda allowed for.

“It would be a common courtesy to allow us to expound on this,” argued Stephenson, but to no avail.

In the end, Ashford simply moved to table the motion, and he and the other two members of the board representing southern Gila County cut off debate. Disputed votes are generally settled this way on the board, 3-2, with members from the south in the majority.

Later Loeffler called on board members to employ a financial analyst to interpret the unclear financial situation the college finds itself in.

Not surprisingly, Gila County Supervisor Shirley Dawson who represents a district primarily in southern Gila County decried the idea.

“I can’t believe you would be talking about hiring an analyst when you are cutting teacher’s salaries,” she said.

Several members from Payson’s Citizen Awareness Committee (CAC) were on hand for the meeting.

Jim Hipple, a member of the CAC, argued in favor of hiring an analyst.

Citing the wide range of estimates concerning the budget for the college in the past year, he said, “An analyst could report to the board, I would recommend a monthly reporting package. These things should be put down on paper.”

Payson resident Chris Tilley also spoke disparagingly of the conduct of members of the board representing EAC during the public comment session.

“They choose what they want to honor in the contract, and what not to. The contract needs to be fairer,” she said.

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