A new action plan that Gila Community College board member Tom Loeffler presented to board members last week represented one of the school’s first tangible steps to break free from serfdom.
Open talk about gaining independence has persisted for roughly a year, but with little action. During a work session last November, board members considered hiring a professional to devise an action plan. A lengthy discussion ended without result.
At the subsequent meeting, members approved a brand new 10-year contract with Eastern Arizona College, which runs GCC. The existing 10-year contract was just three years old.
The change ensured GCC would not pay more than 25 percent overhead for its increased enrollment, but board member Larry Stephenson at the time protested the extended term.
Last week, Loeffler presented his action plan for accreditation, which the board did not discuss due to time constraints. However, Loeffler requested that the chairman place the topic on the upcoming work session agenda. A date has not been set.
Loeffler’s strategy consists of seven steps, including compiling data about funding and how GCC could receive equal funding without adversely affecting other community colleges.
The plan advocates a “win-win” strategy to promote buy-in among legislators and other community colleges. He asks whether the college should hire its own lobbyist. GCC and EAC share one lobbyist.
A public relations campaign through newspapers, television and radio could educate voters about GCC’s short funding despite rapidly rising enrollment and according to Loeffler, the college’s positive impact on the community.
College officials have repeatedly discussed the importance of mobilizing communities to lobby their legislators to fight for equal rights.
The school’s current budget embarrassment has underscored how little control board members have. Shortly after passing a seemingly balanced $6.17 million budget, Senior Dean Stephen Cullen told members the college had a $2 million deficit. That figure has since changed, but board members are unsure by how much.
EAC’s business officer would not return phone calls from either Loeffler or the Roundup.
Gila County cannot run its own college because property values and population counts fall below legislatively set thresholds. Consequently, it must contract with another school.
The college receives less than half of the per-student funding as other community colleges, and is also ineligible for two special funding streams that other colleges receive.
GCC contracts with EAC to award diplomas, but the contract limits GCC’s authority. The college cannot hire or fire staff, control its finances, or decide what classes to offer, although EAC usually allows GCC to move ahead with curriculum choices.
The college also cannot bond for capital improvements or own any buildings. State Rep. Bill Konopnicki introduced a bill in January to allow GCC, the only provisional college in the state, to both bond for new buildings and own existing buildings.
Gila County currently owns GCC’s buildings although GCC’s board voted to take ownership. However, the transfer cannot occur until the legislature passes Konopnicki’s bill. The college viewed taking ownership of its buildings as a step toward independence.
Budget negotiations have occupied lawmakers, and it is unclear when debate on the bill will resume.