In reading the front page article in the Aug. 21 edition of the Payson Roundup, it becomes rather obvious that the Gila Community College (GCC) Governing Board currently has a multifaceted budget challenge. The article also indicates the appearance of a geographic conflict between the northern and southern parts of this county.
In addressing these two issues it is important to also understand why we find ourselves in this situation and what we as citizens of Gila County can do to correct the situation and move our community college to a better future.
Currently, the GCC Governing Board does not control our own budget so we have no power to change it, or even on a practical level, know where we are with our expenditures. We simply do not have the necessary school data to make good financial decisions.
Eastern Arizona College (EAC), by agreement that the board signed in 2005, handles all our administrative and academic income and expenses.
We send them the funds and they pay the bills. As you may have read in the above mentioned article, some of the EAC figures in the current budget are in question. This compounds the difficulty of governing the college. When we do not have the power to make decisions based on data we do not have and on budgetary figures that are in question, our ability is limited.
While I’d be the first to admit we currently have a budget shortfall with some figures that do not seem to be accurate and a challenge to remove the current furloughing of staff, I do not see this as a north vs. south issue. I take exception to the implications made by the Roundup on this subject.
By analyzing the most recent votes by the board on motions made at the last meeting you would see the truth of the matter. The first vote unanimously approved the new high school grads scholarship program. The other two motions had split votes, one being four to one and the other was three to two. I do not consider that voting record a reflection of geographic location.
I understand at one time there may have been some votes by past boards on issues based on geography, but today I see five board members who strive to make GCC the best educational experience for the money. We, on the board, are all committed to working together to bring in additional funding and needed programs to make GCC even better than it is currently.
This commitment does not imply that every board vote will be a unanimous decision. We all live in a county that has very unique socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures and these will influence how one views an issue. But this influence is not a negative. Bringing many views together will always make for better decisions. We, as a board, welcome various ideas because that only makes the final product a better, more representative solution. We are a board representing all of the Gila County community. Gila County is the one and only community that GCC represents. There is neither a north community college nor a south community, only Gila Community College. The sooner we, as a community, can embrace that concept the sooner the entire community can work together to make GCC a college working on the educational needs of Gila County.
So what can our community college do for us? It can educate our undergraduates at one-tenth the cost of a university. It is our trade school that can move quickly to adapt to changing economic realities and the changing labor market. Community college grads earn about 30 percent more than high school grads which is a boom for state and local governments. It can be the center of community education to help us expand our views, our interests and ideas. It can be an educational leader in the community.
To accomplish this, our community college must set educational goals that consider what is happening beyond their own walls — preparing students to move out into the world of the unknown. The college must embrace diversity since not all students will move on to a four-year colleges. It must maintain an informed faculty and provide the resources to accomplish this. It must provide the information and challenge ideas so our students make intellectual, rational decisions.
I see four challenges for the citizens of Gila County to bring this to reality.
1. We must work with the attorney general to ensure that we get the same level of state funding as the other community colleges.
2. We must work with our legislators to drop the provisional standing of our college and replace it with an independent district under state law.
3. We must continue to support new programs needed to fully educate our future leaders.
4. We must all come together to support the students, the administration and the board in the advancement of ONE community college, GCC.
It’s a big challenge but the students deserve the very best education we can provide and the administration and governing board can accomplish this with the help of the entire community.