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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Task force meets to study independence for GCC

By Matt Brabb
Mogollon Connection Editor

A task force created to explore the potential for Gila Community College (GCC) to shed its provisional status and gain its independence from Eastern Arizona College (EAC), met in Payson last week for a spirited work session.

One thing became clear during the meeting: the process will not happen quickly. It will take up to three years before the college can apply for accreditation, which means it meets the qualifications to award diplomas on its own, and the entire process for becoming independent may take as long as a decade.

Still, State Senator Sylvia Allen, representing LD5, argued that the task force should waste no time in crafting legislation she could sponsor that would construct a mechanism whereby an existing provisional college would become eligible to be an independent district when certain benchmarks were reached.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she remarked.

GCC board member Thomas Loeffler argued that the task force should “explore the possibility of drafting new legislation instead of trying to rewrite existing legislation that pertains to provisional community colleges.” GCC is the only provisional community college in the state.

Loeffler, who heads a subcommittee for the task force, stated that he would be bringing a number of items to the group for their consideration in the near future.

“Future considerations … include what are the appropriate benchmarks that a college would be required to reach? What mechanism would initiate the transition to an independent district? What is the role of the voting public in this process, and at the time of a public vote would we include a resolution to increase the district levy limit? How and where do we conduct a public hearing; what existing laws and funding formulas would apply to a new district, such as the current equalization aid formula? And do we phase in funding gradually? Obviously, for state purposes, any proposal must be fiscally neutral.”

The real question about whether GCC can become independent revolves around how much it might cost the college to do so.

Currently GCC pays EAC some $1.2 million a year in administrative costs. Whether or not they could replace the numerous tasks EAC provides GCC with for equal or less than that figure is something that the task force is still trying to decipher.

As GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen put it, “This has never been done before; we are in uncharted water.”

Cullen seemed doubtful that the college could attain accreditation and become independent without additional funding.

“Can we demonstrate the capacity to be financially stable to be accredited? Today I would say no,” he told the task force.

“The money you pay for things has come from GCC,” countered Allen. “You run a great college. You have been successful. That is your record.”

“I truly believe the $1.2 million will not be adequate (to cover costs); we need to study it and find out,” said Cullen.

Cullen further argued that taxes supporting GCC, gleaned from the property tax, were low in comparison with other counties. He noted that the state-wide average was $1.13, and the rate in Gila County was roughly half of that.

“The voters of Gila County would have to realize that 62 cents is too low. If they are not willing to move that (figure), then there may be no reason for us to meet,” he said.

Loeffler pointed out that it would be a couple of years before even being considered for accreditation.

“This is a five to seven year process,” he said.

Another task force member observed that the delay might be a good thing. He noted that the length of time it would take to accomplish independence might work in GCC’s favor.

“This isn’t coming together in the next year or two. There is no pot of money right now. In a few years, maybe things will be different.”

Allen agreed, but noted, “It will never happen if we don’t get started.”

1 comment:

Cowboytoo said...

According to some sources, Payson will soon have a branch of ASU with a potential of 5,000 or more students. What would become of GSU then? Why would it even exist?