The recent Gila Community College Board of Governors District 1 seat race shone a spotlight on the college, creating a communitywide discussion about the future of the institution.
While listening to the debate between the two candidates, we came to two conclusions -- the role of the college in Payson needs to be defined, but before that can happen the college must solve funding and perception problems.
The current situation at the college, following years of litigation, political wrangling, and changes in name and leadership have left the community confused and concerned.
Board members and college administration can say they want to put that ugly chapter behind them as much as they like, but the truth is that the black mark still remains.
Many community members have not put it behind them and their confidence in the college is shaken. The college cannot ignore this perception problem, because the school cannot move forward without a supportive citizenry.
Secondly, as Don Crowley said repeatedly during his campaign and in his seat on the District 1 Board of Governors, the funding inequity between northern and southern Gila County campuses must be corrected.
The college is funded by property taxes. What we pay is disproportionate to the services we receive in return.
As Crowley said, "We receive the scraps that slip off the table."
Once the funding and image problems have been addressed, the college can focus on what is truly important -- the classroom.
We would like to see the college serve two functions in Payson -- as a training field for our local work force and as a spring board for our university bound high school students.
Currently, a survey is circulating among the business, health, arts and educational communities focused on the role the college should play in Payson. If you have an interest in our college and you have not filled out the survey already, it is titled the Northern Gila County Higher Education Needs Assessment (HENA), and is available from Crowley at (928) 472-7001 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
It is important that the public responds to the survey. The college can't adequately serve the needs of the community without the input from citizens.
According to another survey completed this summer by the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, 77 percent of the businesses polled are dissatisfied with the quality, availability and stability of the local work force. The college could serve as a catalyst on this issue. Through the HENA survey, employers can identify specific needs in the labor market, and the college, in turn, should provide training in those areas -- from computer skills to auto repair and culinary skills.
This ability to train the local work force as the needs arise is also a good way to attract businesses with high-paying jobs to our area.
In partnership with the college, this community would be taking charge of its own economic future.