Gila County and Eastern Arizona College have reached a stalemate in their attempt to negotiate a new contract for the coming school year.
Tuesday, the Gila County Board of Supervisors gave EAC a deadline of 2 p.m. Friday to accept the county's contract proposal. While EAC President Mark Bryce and Executive Vice President Brent McEuen were unavailable for comment, Gila County Administrator Steve Besich said the college has already rejected the document.
"We have heard as early as (Wednesday) night at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. that Eastern has rejected the board's contract out of hand," Besich said.
Because Gila County does not meet state requirements to form a regular community college district, it currently contracts with Eastern Arizona College in Graham County to operate campuses in Globe and Payson.
Meanwhile, EAC-Payson Assistant Dean Barbara Ganz confirmed that she has been directed by the college to end the current summer session at the Payson campus June 28 nearly three weeks early.
"We're doing it as a preventative measure, just to make sure that students get their credit, they finish their class, they get their veterans benefits, they get their financial aid, whatever their situation is," Ganz said. Classes will meet extra hours to make up the time.
Besich questioned the legality of the contract rejection by EAC administrators.
"Neither Mark Bryce, (Globe campus and Gila County dean) Margo Braccamonte, nor Brent McEuen have the statutory authority to do that arbitrarily," Besich said. "The only people who can reject this contract are the people who the board's trying to contract with, and that's the Gila County Community College Governing Board. I am taking this personally and the board is taking this personally as a slap in the face from some school administrators who are personally trying to create havoc amongst Gila County taxpayers."
Besich said ending the summer session early is a further indication that it might be time for Gila County to seek a new higher education partner.
The contract offered by Gila County contains at least two provisions which are unacceptable to EAC:
Reserving $125,000 for the Gila County Community College Advisory Committee to use for audits, master plans and other expenses.
A clause stipulating that monies collected in Gila County stay here in the event that the county and EAC ever part ways.
EAC's position is that the county is making unnecessary changes to a longstanding working arrangement that has stood the test of time.
Gila County voters will be asked to approve the formation of a provisional community college district when they go to the polls in the November election.
Even if voters elect to form a provisional district, the county must still contract with an existing community college district to provide instructional and student services. But the creation of such a district would mean that Gila County no longer has to pay out-of-county tuition to other counties, reducing the operating budget of Eastern Arizona College by about $250,000.
Besich said the county approached EAC a year ago for their support in forming a provisional district.
"(At that time) they put it in writing that it was their choice not to meddle in local political issues, and they have been meddling in local political issues ever since that day not only with the citizens of Gila County, but with state legislators, with the members of the state community college board of directors," Besich said. "As far as I'm concerned, they say one thing and then they do something else."
Besich also indicated that three other community college districts have expressed an interest in contracting with the county, and that his office is making contingency plans in the event that EAC does not change its position on the contract offer.
The state recently decided to divest itself of campus ownership and gave Gila County title to the Globe and Payson campuses.
By state law a new contract must be in place by July 1.