Community College Funding A Muddy Issue

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In their Guest Comment in this issue, legislators Jack Brown, Jake Flake and Bill Konopnicki call into question our Aug. 8 editorial in which we referred to their support of Senate Bill 1105 as curious.

Community college district funding is a terribly complex issue, but we will try to simplify it as much as possible in explaining why we used that word to portray their actions.

In their commentary, the three legislators point out that county officials knew the decision to sever ties with Eastern Arizona College and form a provisional district "would possibly result in a funding loss for Gila Community College (GCC)." This is partially true in that county officials realized they would be giving up two funding sources by forming a provisional district -- equalization monies and Perkins vocational education monies.

SB1105, however, provides two additional funding sources -- work force development money from Prop. 301 and actual state funding based on enrollment.

According to Evelyn Martinez of the Chief Clerk's Office of the state legislature, "They're saying that there is no funding involved or it doesn't take anything away ... and you have it in the summary that oh, yes, there is. I don't how much clearer you can get."

Approval of the bill means a potential loss of about $1 million per year in funding for our community college -- about one-third of GCC's operating budget.

Here's how it happened.

SB1105 was designed to address the fact that the state community college board was disbanded last year. Through SB1105, the powers vested in that board are given to the various local community college boards.

Unfortunately, a few changes were slipped into SB1105 by legislators other than our own. The most significant change was the deletion of wording that would have included provisional districts and the addition of this phrase -- "...but does not include provisional community college districts..." That change in wording had the effect of excluding Gila Community College from the two funding sources mentioned above.

Since Gila County is the only functioning provisional district in the state, SB1105 provides funding for every community college in the state except ours. Considering the fact that state law mandates our status as a provisional district because of our small population and low valuation, that is unfair to the taxpayers of Gila County.

While our legislators were not responsible for the changes written into the bill, they did vote for it -- either by oversight or because the changes were slipped in at the last minute.

Flake said he believes provisional college districts were not eligible for some of these funds prior to SB1105, so no actual monies were lost, but said he will research it further.

In our previous editorial, we did not mean to question the work ethics of legislators Brown, Flake and Konopnicki. They represent our district well and have done much to benefit our county.

We only questioned why they would support a bill that would exclude only Gila County from these two funding sources. What is important at this point is that our legislators have vowed to try to set things right in a special session of the legislature.

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