A House committee approved legislation Feb. 6 that would allow Gila County to run its provisional community college district past 2009, when a law allowing the arrangement was due to expire.
Administrators, instructors and other Gila County residents spoke in favor of HB 2193, which the House Committee on Higher Education endorsed on a unanimous vote.
"The provisional community college district is working for us," said Harry Swanson, dean of Gila Community College's Payson campus. "We're contributing to the work force."
Current law allows provisional community college districts in counties that don't have the population or property value required to form a regular district. Provisional districts cannot offer degrees and must contract out some services to one of the state's full-fledged community college districts.
Stand-alone districts serve eleven of Arizona's 15 counties. Gila is the only county that has formed a provisional district. Apache, Greenlee and Santa Cruz counties reimburse the districts that their residents attend.
Unless the bill becomes law, the provisional-district program is set to end on July 1, 2009.
Stephen Cullen, dean of the campuses in Globe and San Carlos, said the sunset clause has hurt his efforts to recruit students.
"One of the questions that continually arises is, ‘Will our college exist after two years?'" he said.
Margo Bracamonte, another of the college's deans, said the college's stability would be jeopardized if the provisional-district program were to end.
"My concern is if the provisional (status) sunsets, we'll become an unorganized community college," Bracamonte said. "We'll be taking another step backward."
Dan Haapala, news director at Payson radio station KMOG-AM, voiced his personal disapproval of the bill.
Haapala said he supported the community college's mission, but he said there's disagreement among Gila County residents about whether the provisional system is the best approach.
"We have some different needs in Gila County between north and south," he said. "We find that we in the north are not getting what we want."
But committee member Rep. Pete Rios, D-Hayden, said it appeared the college's supporters had the entire county's interests in mind.
"They're not talking about the north or the south," Rios said. "If they have some difference between Payson and Globe and San Carlos, that's something for them to deal with on another day."
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, sponsored the bill.