Our 'Provisional' College District



I plead guilty.

Recently, fellow Governing Board member of the Gila County Community College District Don Crowley and I were accused of only looking out for Payson's interests, rather than all of Gila County. To that charge, I plead "guilty as charged."

In 2004, I was elected to represent a district bounded on the west by Highway 87 and extending to the east near Little Green Valley. If my geography is correct, this includes a fair piece of Payson and Star Valley.

Let me begin with some history. In 2002, the voters of Gila County were presented with two interrelated issues on the ballot. First, should they vote to form a countywide "provisional" community college district? (More on the "provisional" district in a minute.) Second, and perhaps more importantly, should they vote to tax themselves approximately $62 per $100,000 assessed valuation of residential property to support the district? This amount was in addition to taxes already being paid.

The answer to both ballot questions from the good people of Rim Country -- and the rest of Gila County -- was a resounding "yes."

Thus formed, you voted on and entrusted the Governing Board with decisions related to the approximately $2.2 million of your new tax money for new community college services. It is for the distribution of this money that Don Crowley and I have been trying to represent you.

As a "provisional" district, we are required by statute, to contract with an existing community college district to serve the needs of Gila County, including Payson. As a "provisional" district, we are prohibited from offering our own programs to meet our own unique needs. Hence, we contracted with another established community college -- at present, Eastern Arizona College.

The current state law setting up "provisional" districts has any such district terminating in 2009. Efforts are currently under way to extend that deadline indefinitely.

It is interesting to note that the law regarding "provisional" districts requires your vote as to whether or not to establish one. However, once established, it might be permitted to go on forever, without your vote.

One good point about having a community college district, "provisional" or otherwise, is that it saves about $1 million annually in out-of-county tuition payments by Gila County.

As a "provisional" district, we are dependent upon administrators hired by and ultimately loyal to another institution in another county to look out for the interests of Gila County, including the interests of northern Gila County. Neither Don Crowley nor I are administrators. We are supposed to set policy, adopt budgets and provide general direction. We do not actually create new programs or course offerings. That is the responsibility of your contract employees.

To be fair, the process of developing new courses and programs has worked fairly well in the Globe area. But not quite so well up here in this part of Gila County. In fact, it has worked so well down there that they are currently absorbing approximately 75 percent of the district's budget. Your tax money at work?

So, this is why I plead guilty. If I'm accused of only looking out for the Payson area, I'm trying to do the job you elected me to do.

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