The Board of Supervisors will hold a special meeting at 2 p.m. Monday to determine the fate of Eastern Arizona College in Gila County.
The sole item on the agenda will be the latest contract offer from EAC, which operates the Globe and Payson campuses. The county and EAC are at loggerheads over a new contract, and the county is threatening to contract with another community college district if EAC doesn't accept its demands.
The contract to be considered by the board was drawn up by EAC following a negotiating session between the two parties on Tuesday.
"We explained that the contract as written did not represent what they said it meant," said EAC President Mark Bryce. "We had to do some clarification on both sides, and now they can either accept it or not."
Gila County contracts with EAC, which is located in Graham County, because it does not meet state requirements to form a regular community college district of its own. 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 general 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.
The two primary changes Gila County wants in the contract are:
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.
According to County Administrator Steve Besich, EAC has met the county at least part way in the latest contract offer.
"What (Bryce) is basically saying now is that he doesn't care if we want the $125,000, but any dollars remaining from past years and generated from future years will be the sole property of EAC regardless of whether we remain associated or not," Besich said. "That amounts to $6.2 million."
He implied that the supervisors are not likely to accept that stipulation.
"The board, since it represents Gila County taxpayers, is not going to support any type of unjust enrichment of the Graham County Community College District by Gila County property owners," Besich said.
If the supervisors reject the proposed contract, Bryce says the county will have a hard time finding a community college to replace EAC.
"We know of no community college willing to offer any services down there," Bryce said. "I don't think there is anybody, and that's the sad thing.
"It would be one thing if they had too many suitors, but they may be a bride without a groom."
Besich says that's simply not true.
"I think he's sadly mistaken because we've already had meetings with three people and none of them said they're not interested."
The state recently decided to divest itself of campus ownership and gave Gila County title to the Globe and Payson campuses.
Besich said the county is ready to hit the ground running. By state law a new contract must signed by July 1.
"We have a team in place that will come on board as Gila County employees come Monday, July 1, and their goal and task will be, one, to maintain the safety and security of the facilities, and two, to get the fall semester up and running in time," Besich said.
"We have a professional administrator already lined up with 25 years of experience. The banner will read, 'Under New Management.'"