Getting An Education Has Never Been More Difficult

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The business of House Bills 2079 and 2105 is complicated stuff. As I sat listening to the reading of the amendments and the amendments to the amendments, I thought I was missing something. I wasn't. I found that others were also baffled by the cryptic language of the legislation.

In fact, if you listen to Sarah Nelson, director of Gila Community College's noncredit and community programs, a lack of understanding is just the problem.

"They just don't understand what a provisional community college is," said Nelson yesterday after the House Appropriations Committee voted to pass HBs 2079 and 2105 -- which for the most part abolishes Gila County's provisional community college district and takes away local control.

A provisional community college district is instituted in a municipality that does not have the tax revenue or population base to support a full-fledged district. As the law stands now, a county must have an assessed valuation of $480 million and 40,000 residents under the age of 15.

The provisional district enters into an agreement with an established district. In this case, GCC operates under Pima Community College's umbrella, but retains local control through its own board and administrator Dr. Barbara Ganz.

In return GCC pays about $1.3 million a year for teachers, courses and even degrees from Pima Community College.

According to Ganz, a major impetus for incorporating a provisional community college district was to offset the amount of money coming out of the county's general fund to pay for the community college. The tax levy passed in 2002 pays for these services, but with the passage of HB 2079, that money could cover general fund expenditures -- something voters didn't approve.

As I sat at the Capitol yesterday with Ganz, Nelson, Mike Amon, Bing Brown, Judy Baker and about 15 other Rim country residents, I was touched by the passion these people have for our little corner of the world and their desire to give others the gift of a community college education.

Payson needs a community college of its own. The residents of this town live too far away from the Valley or Flagstaff to commute, and even if they could drive 100 miles one way to school, who can afford to disrupt their families and lives to do so?

If I'm considering moving to Payson, the quality and consistency of my secondary education options could make or break my decision.

And after all, as the law stands today, a community college needs to fulfill tax revenue and population requirements to support its own district.

So without a stable outlet for higher education, Payson is neither going to attract the tax base it needs to sustain its own community college nor keep local students in Payson to bolster the workforce.

I have a lot of respect for students pursuing their educational goals under the current legislative instability, and I admire the community members who keep fighting the good fight.

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