Legislators, College Officials Meet

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Both sides expressed cautious optimism that some additional funding will be found after a meeting last week between area legislators and the board of the Gila County Community College District.

At issue is the support of Senate Bill 1105 by House Speaker Jake Flake, Senator Jack Brown, and Representative Bill Konopnicki. College officials argue that Gila County Community College District is denied two funding sources as a result -- work force development money from Proposition 301 and actual state funding based on enrollment.

At the meeting, held last Tuesday in Flake's office at the state capitol in Phoenix, the two sides sat down for the first time to try and resolve the problem.

"It was a very productive meeting," Konopnicki said. "We had a very, very good session, and I think we're moving in the right direction."

GCCD President Barbara Ganz agreed.

"I thought it was very cordial and I think they tried and I think it's a very good first step," she said.

Although the two sides still disagree over what a provisional college district is allowed to do and whether or not it can report enrollment for funding purposes, they agreed to work together to find additional sources of funding for the fledgling district, the only active provisional community college district in the state.

"Representative Konopnicki is going to come up with some specific recommendations to see what we can do at the legislative level, and Steve Besich is going to do the same for the county," Jake Logan, Flake's press secretary, said.

Konopnicki explained that several possibilities for additional funding will be explored.

"The speaker made a commitment that we would look at Proposition 301 funding, which would give (GCCD an additional) $200,000," he said. "The way community colleges are funded, the classes you teach today aren't paid for for two years. We want to approach the possibility of doing real-time funding for Gila Community College so they would get money right away instead of having to wait two years."

A final source of additional monies is based on the fact that the GCCD has physical facilities that must be maintained.

"Gila County has some buildings that no other provisional district has, which gives them some overhead. So we're trying to get a supplement that would give them help short term that could help with some of those operating costs," Konopnicki said.

The three legislators have already started working on the matter and have asked that it be placed on the agenda of a special session that Governor Janet Napolitano is expected to call.

"There has been a lot of preliminary work with the legislature and other college districts, and nobody has shut the door on us so far," Konopnicki said. "That's a very positive sign."

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

But its approval also meant a potential loss of about $1 million per year in funding for our community college -- about one-third of the GCCD operating budget.

Konopnicki admitted that while he and his two colleagues were aware of last minute changes made to the bill to exclude provisional districts, they were not aware that those changes would affect GCCD's funding.

"That bill was around for months and that was put in there the last day of the budget," Konopnicki said. "It was a last minute change and I can tell you ... all that budget broke in two days ...

"To make a long story short, I knew it was in there, and I think the others did too. I just didn't think it would have any impact."

While there are no plans for another meeting between the GCCD board and the three legislators, they will stay in touch as possible solutions are explored.

"The idea was, and everybody left the meeting thinking it, there are some things we can try to work on," Logan said. "The legislation was kind of snuck under there and nobody knew exactly what was in there and I think that's something we can address."

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