Gila Community College’s Senior Dean Stephen Cullen told the board Thursday that the college will save $526,000 by furloughing administrative and support staff four days each month.
Some board members said they would like to examine other options, but Eastern Arizona College makes GCC’s personnel decisions, and most of its financial decisions. The decision has already been made.
Thursday’s meeting drew laughs at times and strained exchanges at others. Board chairman Bob Ashford several times denied other members’ requests for discussion, which at one point drew bewilderment from one of the attendees in Payson.
However, board members agreed to a work-study session to discuss other cost-cutting measures, including eliminating senior citizen tuition waivers, suspending scholarships to seniors in high school, or raising revenue through increasing tuition. The measures were on Thursday’s agenda, but the board tabled them.
The logistics of implementing a potential 30 percent to 40 percent tuition hike puzzled board members. Cullen said EAC would want to enact the hike for the fall semester, but students have already begun registering. However, Cullen said that raising tuition is one power GCC’s board does have.
Cullen also told board members that the college has a projected $2 million deficit for the coming fiscal year despite having passed a seemingly balanced budget last week.
“I’m upset to find out we’re in a $2 million hole,” said board member Larry Stephenson after the meeting. He said the furlough seemed a draconian measure — “punishment to the staff for our inability to control our own finances.”
Board member Tom Loeffler had calculated a budget sheet with projected revenues, expenses and proposed cost reductions that included a furlough reduction from 20 percent to 5 percent.
Loeffler’s calculations were in some ways more complete than the budget passed last week. They included $1.4 million income from tuition fees — the budget offered no projection — and a potential $250,000 in federal stimulus funds.
The board tabled the calculations, however, until the work-study session.
Loeffler, who said previously he was interested in strengthening GCC’s ability to direct its destiny, questioned how Cullen’s presentation of possibilities occupied the meeting when Loeffler had wanted a robust, board-led discussion of potential cost-saving measures.
“I believe it should be a board discussion, not a report from the staff person,” Loeffler said. He said the board should handle the issues of potential tuition hikes and and furloughs as a whole, and with the acknowledgement that one decision affects another.
“I don’t think we can just say, ‘Should we increase, should we decrease,’” Loeffler said.
He later proposed a draft policy that would require the board to discuss economic issues like the current one, compile a recommendation and then forward it to EAC.
Ashford said he agreed to both the policy and the work study session.
Previously, however, Ashford had snubbed several requests including Stephenson’s request to discuss how one employee’s lay-off affected programs, Stephenson’s request to read a Roundup editorial into the record, and a request by both Stephenson and Loeffler to discuss furloughs in concert with the other potential cost-saving measures.
When Stephenson asked how the laying-off of Peggy Miles, who worked at the Wellness Center and taught some classes, would affect programs, Ashford said the board couldn’t talk about that because it was a personnel issue.
“It’s not personnel,” Stephenson replied. It refers to programs, he said.
Ashford told Stephenson he was “quizzing” and trying to “circumvent” the rules. Then, the attorney present said the board couldn’t talk about the program changes because it wasn’t on the agenda.
“That’s right, it’s not on the agenda,” Ashford said.
When Stephenson asked if the topic could appear on the next agenda, Ashford said, “We’ll consult with our attorney to see if that’s something we can do.”