Sunday, June 27, 2010

GCC reinstates full tuition waiver for seniors

By Matt Brabb
Connection Editor

The Gila Community College (GCC) governing board met on Thursday and made a number of decisions ranging from senior tuition waivers to whether or not to ask voters to approve a $1.5 million secondary property tax increase.

The board voted to reinstate a 100 percent tuition waiver for seniors aged 60 and above, but defeated an attempt to put the property tax increase on the ballot. A super majority (four votes out of five) of the board was needed to put the matter to the public. The vote was 3-2 with Dr. Larry Stephenson and Tom Loeffler, who both represent the Payson GCC campus voting no.

Board President Bob Ashford made an impassioned plea for the tax.

“This would still leave us near the bottom for tax rates across the state. Without this, the possibility is very real that without earmarks or grants, the nursing program could go away if we had to stop the bleeding to pay our bills.

“The citizens of Gila County have seen the good we’ve done in getting our residents from welfare to the work force,” said Ashford.

Stephenson sounded a familiar theme in explaining the reason for his no vote.

“I can’t support this motion,” he said. “If we cannot account for the money we have spent so far, we have no business asking for more. I’m voting no based on our woeful lack of information from EAC.”

GCC relies on Eastern Arizona College (EAC) for accreditation, and Stephenson and Loeffler have often criticized the financial data supplied by EAC for being vague and difficult to formulate a budget for GCC.

While agreeing that the college could use the increase, Loeffler also voted no to put the matter before the voters.

“Gila County does need a vibrant community college, but at this time with the economy the way it is, I find it difficult to put another tax on the citizens of this county,” said Loeffler.

“If we are independent, I believe the voters of Gila County would be more likely to support us,” he added.

GCC is exploring ways to remove the provisional tag it wears, which ties it to another college, as it presently is with EAC.

In another important decision, the board voted to reintroduce senior waivers for those 60 and above. The college saw a significant drop in enrollment when it did away with the waivers last year.

Voting no, Loeffler noted that the proposed policy was more generous than any other college in the state, and that in light of the college’s questionable financial situation, was a questionable move.

“No community college does this. The most they give is a 50 percent waiver for those 60 and over, and most give nothing,” he said.

Ashford countered by claiming that the community missed the senior waivers.

“Citizens have been speaking loudly that they need this back,” he said.

In addition, he pointed out that the increase in enrollment would result in additional state aid, which is given in proportion to enrollment.

“We need to get our enrollment back up to become independent,” he argued.

The board also voted to adopt the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget from GCC. It was approved with four yes votes and one abstention by Stephenson.

“I am abstaining because the public statement for this budget did not include tuition as revenue,” explained Stephenson.

Before voting on the budget, one other matter was brought up by Loeffler. He questioned GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen about whether or not several members of the college staff, including Dean Cullen, were scheduled to receive raises despite the fact that a furlough amounting to a 20 percent pay cut is still in place for college personnel.

Loeffler had a document that seemed to indicate that a number of staff members were budgeted to receive small raises.

“I see some small increases in salary; is that for all or just certain staff members?” Loeffler asked.

Ashford responded that there were no raises in the new budget for any of the deans.

“According to this document there is,” said Loeffler.

“It seems inconsistent to furlough employees and then turn around give some of them raises,” agreed Stephenson.

“Apparently you have a document that we don’t have,” answered Ashford.

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