Two candidates, Al Poskanzer and Don Crowley, are competing for the District 1 seat on the governing board of Gila Community College.
Despite the competition, it's actually been a hard seat for the college to keep filled in the past two years.
The six-year term for the District 1 seat began in 2004.
Ron Christensen, the person originally elected to the position, resigned in April 2005 over GCC's contract with Eastern Arizona College.
Dick Wolfe was appointed by Gila County School superintendent Linda O'Dell to fill the position in June 2005. Wolfe stepped down in December 2005 after members of the board, previous to Wolfe's appointment, were found in violation of open meeting laws.
Don Crowley was appointed to take Wolfe's place and sworn in on April 15.
Because Christensen and Wolfe both resigned, if Crowley wants to retain the position, he must run for election, according to state law.
"I've been privileged since moving to Payson to work with a number of wonderful people in our community who place a very high value on seeking and providing quality education at all levels, and -- win, lose or draw -- I expect to continue being part of that quest," Crowley said.
Challenger, Al Poskanzer, moved to Payson two years ago. His background includes 11 years of administration experience at the University of California and Arizona State University, where he directed the development and licensing of intellectual property.
"I know how universities and institutions of higher education operate and are financed," Poskanzer said. "I have 30 years in management. I don't know of anybody in Gila County who has ever come to a position like this with that kind of management and leadership experience."
What is the role of GCC in the community?
Poskanzer: We need to make the Payson campus really functional so that it helps our high school students get into a university. It contributes to work force development for the town of Payson and becomes a centerpiece for cultural activity for the town. Right now, GCC is dysfunctional and needs significant improvement to serve the needs of the community.
Crowley: GCC's role in the community should have various facets, but first and foremost it should meet the demonstrated needs of the community's members. Once the community has spoken, those needs must be prioritized with respect to available resources.
GCC and its contract provider should better be able to align course with those needs after the completion of the Northern Gila County Higher Education Needs Assessment (HENA). I am helping to lead this blueprint.
Through my analysis of GCC's financial and enrollment data, I have concluded that Payson, Pine and Strawberry approximate 60 percent of the county's assessed property valuation (that pays for GCC.) Add in outlying communities, ranging from Tonto Basin to Christopher Creek, and the northern end of Gila County has close to 85 percent of the tax base and close to 60 percent of the population.
Yet, the Payson college campus received 30 percent of the district's expenditures and services.
There should be a better balance between campuses.
What do you think GCC is doing right?
Poskanzer: The rumors that Payson is not getting the services it is paying tax dollars for is a complete misnomer.
Of the $3.9 million dollar budget, Globe receives $1.4 million, Payson $1.3 million, San Carlos more than $200,000 and Hayden $90,000.
Expenditure limits at the college are set by the state. Increased enrollment at GCC would save incoming high school students money and increase expenditure limits.
GCC is on the right track, but they need to move faster and the board must help.
In the past year-and-a-half there has been a 256 percent increase in enrollment.
The Payson campus has a Dean (Harry Swanson) who cares and is sensitive to the public's needs.
Crowley: EAC appears to be serving GCC quite adequately in the southern part of the county, particularly in Globe where the bulk of the resources are being expended. The dual enrollment program with the high schools seems to be running well. They have launched several vocational/technical programs with the help of grants from Phelps Dodge and the Arizona Department of Transportation. I am pleased that Payson campus dean, Harry Swanson, is working to get some of the ADOT grant program for GCC students in Payson.
Despite some heartbreaking false starts, thanks to the efforts and financial resources of the Mogollon Health Alliance and Payson Regional Medical Center a registered nursing program is underway at both ends of the district.
The San Carlos campus, while shorted on resources last year, appears to be getting more attention in the current academic year.
I admire the adjunct teaching instructors on the Payson campus who are teaching core courses. In my judgment, their compensation is far too low -- half of what they could get in the Valley. I hope the district can do better by them and reduce staff turnover.
What changes do you think need to be made and why?
Poskanzer: The community college system in Arizona is designed so that students can go anywhere in Arizona and take state-sanctioned general education courses for transfer to the state's universities, without having to go through admissions, as second semester sophomores or first year juniors.
I do not know how many high school seniors want to go to college in Payson, but I do know many cannot afford to go to a university.
The crux of the matter is that high school students do not perceive they can get general education courses in Payson. So, they are going down the hill to take their courses.
In fact, in the past five semester there were 24 math courses, 31 English, 27 natural science and 24 social science courses offered on the Payson campus.
We must go to students at PHS and explain to them that courses are available.
The San Carlos and Globe campuses are offering dual credit courses for classes taught at the high school.
The Payson High School needs to support a dual credit program.
Health care clinicians of all types are needed in the community, so are people in construction and hospitality trades.
Partnerships with the hospital and other companies who would sponsor courses or in-kind donations would get their investment back in trained employees.
For example, when Hilton Hotels comes in with the Event Center they are not going to hire just anyone.
Northern Arizona University has one of the best hotel and restaurant management programs in the country.
GCC could partner with NAU through distance learning and ITV (interactive television) to offer that program to Payson students.
I see work force development being financed by private donations and employers sponsoring courses meaningful to their industry.
Courses the college offers must be coordinated with the town's growth objectives.
General education courses will finance themselves through increased enrollments.
The average age of students at the Payson campus is over 50.
The costs of courses should be borne by the people who are taking them.
Crowley: I would like to see more emphasis placed on delivering classes of academic quality rather than emphasize swelling enrollments driven mostly by the Wellness Centers.
I think we need to stop the tail from wagging the dog. Classes should not be offered simply because a teacher is available to teach them.
Resources funding higher education are limited in Gila County and they must be expended carefully for maximum benefit.
Last year, about 91 percent of the district's scholarship money was allocated to free tuition for people aged 55 and over, regardless of need. Of the $288,000 spent by the district, only nine percent went to other students with financial needs.
I think much more of the funding needs to find its way to students who are in financial need, regardless of age.
The high tech delivery of classes via ITV is an important frontier on rural campuses. We need to actively explore ways to iron out the kinks and perhaps join with other college and technology companies to expand ITV classes.
How do you plan to work with the board to make those changes?
Poskanzer: We need board members who will go out and raise funds. We need board members who will work to increase enrollment.
The adversarial attitudes between the two ends of the county is counterproductive.
It is unfortunate and totally unnecessary. It needs to be about working as a team.
To effect change and promote good relationships between board members, I would be willing to assist in any board member's district to promote and raise funds for GCC.
Crowley: I have served on a number of boards in the business and nonprofit sector. I have found my colleagues on the GCC board are willing to listen. The five board members represent different geographical districts and face some different needs. We all need to be respectful of that.
The District 1 seat will be filled by the voters on Nov. 7.
Al Poskanzer can be reached by e-mail at alan.poskanzer@ cox.net.
Don Crowley can reached by e-mail at email@example.com.