Elected Officials Speak As Private Citizens

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Fallout continued over letters written by a group known as "WakeUp Call" that were critical of Eastern Arizona College at Thursday's meeting of the Gila Community College Board of Governors.

Putting titles and power aside, elected officials Shirley Dawson and Mike Pastor spoke as private citizens.

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Harry Swanson, dean of the Payson campus, listens as Don Crowley addresses the board.

Dawson discussed the phlebotomy class on the Globe campus, citing it as an example of a program that provided job training for young people. She asked that the board recognize the "vital role" of such classes.

Don Crowley, co-chairman of WakeUp Call, also addressed the board in the public comment period, which occupied about a third of the two-hour meeting. Crowley defended the academic standard issues raised by the organization's recent letters to the North Central Association (see "Group questions college standards" in Nov. 4 Roundup).

"Gila County and Arizona are on the hook this year for an EAC budget of $3.8 million, including an overhead charge of $800,000," Crowley said, adding it is his opinion that EAC is an "inefficient provider."

"Every piece of information we circulate has to do with data we have received from an official source (like the legislative budget committee). We may analyze it in a different way, but we don't dream it up," Crowley said.

Mike Pastor, BOG member, responded, "I believe the group WakeUp Call of Payson has every right under the Constitution to express their dissent and concerns about the process that we are involved in -- providing educational service to Gila County." Pastor reminded everyone that GCC's provisional district was voted into being.

"(But) I have a lot of trouble understanding what the elitist group of watchdogs up in the northern part of Gila County are trying to do," Pastor said.

He then requested a list of WakeUp Call members so, "we can contact them and provide them with facts, not misinformation, rumor or innuendo."

He said that WakeUp Call member and letter-signer Ron Christensen was elected to the college board and resigned when EAC took over GCC's contract. "He had his opportunity to serve this board, developing this process, and he felt it was necessary to step back .... He was elected for a six-year term. Obviously he understood it to be six months.

"All you have to do is look at the numbers, look at the student enrollment, look at the enthusiasm the students have on all three campuses, and you'll see that (choosing) this ... educational provider (Eastern Arizona College) is the right thing," Pastor said.

During EAC Senior Dean Margo Bracamonte's report, she provided board members with the senior citizen enrollment report that Dick Wolfe and Larry Stephenson requested at the October meeting.

As of day 45 for Fall 2005, the total enrollment in all courses is 3,345. The total senior enrollment in all courses is 1,137, or 34 percent. Bracamonte said it closely parallels the population of seniors in Gila County -- 32.5 percent, according to the latest Census Bureau data.

Wolfe questioned how many of the 1,137 were on senior scholarships.

Bracamonte said she assumed most all were, although she knew some seniors had asked to pay for their courses in Payson.

Stephenson voiced concern that of the $50,513 budgeted for seniors, about 84 percent had already been spent before the second (spring) semester had even started.

"What happens when we hit the ceiling?" he asked.

"Money will be directed to wherever needed for classes," Bracamonte said. "There are budget items that have not been expended, and probably will not be expended, out of the budget, so this will balance out. ..."

"$52,000 appropriated, $42,000 expended," Wolfe commented, looking at budget documents after the meeting was adjourned. "When you have a line item budget, you can't pull money from one item to pay for another," he said. "It's not a lump-sum budget."

During her Gila County update, Dawson defended the college's wellness programs as promoting health in seniors, and said the people she had spoken with felt they deserved to be able to take "life-long learning" courses.

Dawson encouraged all sides to unify for the protection of rural community colleges, saying, "We're all working for accountability," and adding that she "hopes classes function equally well in Payson (as they do in Globe).

"Representative (Bill) Konopniki has been very clear that he's not going to lay down his political life in trying to save Gila Community College," Dawson said.

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