Gila Community College’s recently approved popcorn budget — airy and without substance — is indicative of a broader problem. The college has no autonomy.
Significant figures were missing in the budget, like revenue from tuition and expected expenses for various programs. Several figures were erroneous — including this year’s actual estimates for capital money from the state and last year’s spending ceiling.
On a budget where the numbers will inevitably change, these mistakes may not mean much. But they reveal a disturbing indifference by Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC.
EAC could have projected GCC’s tuition for next year. It didn’t. EAC could have asked GCC’s board for its opinion before it laid off employees and cut hours at GCC’s two wellness centers. It didn’t. EAC could have provided a breakdown of how it will spend 96 percent of GCC’s budget, which GCC is expected to fork over to EAC for payroll, registrar services and the like. It didn’t.
We applaud the efforts of board member Tom Loeffler to discuss with board members future cuts, and then forward those recommendations to EAC.
The only problem is that EAC doesn’t have to listen. They might listen, but it would be out of their own good hearts. Call us cynical, but we don’t trust good hearts. GCC board members should demand legal language in the contract that gives them more rights.
Gila County taxpayers will pay $3.1 million to the college this year. The county pays to hold elections so voters can have a say in who represents them.
Only the college board has little or no power.
While GCC receives less than half of the per-student funding that other rural community colleges do, EAC receives the most. Before budget cuts, GCC received $946 per full-time student equivalent, compared to the $2,100 EAC received during this fiscal year.
A group of people gathered together to fight and build this college. Now Payson needs to gather together and fight for equal funding and a say in spending.
In order to facilitate this process, the college must become more transparent. Board members should examine a budget with real numbers in open session.
GCC board member Larry Stephenson has asked repeatedly that EAC simplify confusing monthly financial statements. But board chairman Bob Ashford has shrugged and said that’s the way EAC does things. However, this is Gila County money, and the board chairman must demand accountability from EAC.
The college should also streamline its record request process so that taxpayers can receive documents electronically instead of by mail.
Transparency will include the public, strengthen the college’s base of support, and provide the knowledge necessary to demand change.
The senior dean has spoken repeatedly about the need to corral the citizens and tack up for a fight.
But we need substance — not popcorn.
Warm globally, act locally
The folks with the body guards, the six-figure speaking fees and the big salaries living smugly inside the Beltway would do well to invite some of the leaders of Rim Country to host a little seminar. Call it: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
That’s one thought spurred by a recent scientific report issued by the White House on the potential effects of a projected 4- to 10-degree warming by the end of this century.
If these climate scientists are right, the Southwest should experience both more severe droughts — and more severe storms. We could get less snow, faster spring melts, more floods, more water shortages, more heat spells, more big forest fires and less rain.
Of course, the predictions remain speculative — and scientific consensus has proved wrong in the past. Moreover, very localized effects remain unpredictable. For instance, warming might shift the summer monsoons — or make them deliver more water.
Either way, the report demonstrates the importance of generations of leadership here in Rim Country. Visionary leaders here have spent 20 years bringing 3,500 acre-feet of water from the Blue Ridge Reservoir to Payson. Now, it looks like we’ll get that water just in time for the intensification of the water wars.
Moreover, the likely warming trend underscores the need to move even more quickly to create firebreaks around Rim communities and restore forest health.
Once again, leaders in the Rim Country have been working on that problem for years, thanks in large measure to aggressive planning by the Payson Ranger District of the Tonto National Forest.
Certainly, we all hope the worst case scenario never comes to pass. But the people in Washington could take a lesson from Rim Country when it comes to thinking ahead.