State Senator Sylvia Allen’s legislative fix for Gila Community College is not likely to be the be-all-do-all for independence from provisional status.
Visiting the Gila County Board of Supervisors Dec. 14 in Star Valley, Allen said, “All I’m going to do on the state level is try and remove the barriers the state has placed that don’t allow the provisional college to move forward. I’m just going to remove that barrier through the legislation that I plan. It will then be up to you locally to determine what you will do next.
“You will have the ability to become more independent and that independence is the ability to have the freedom to have more control over your education in your county and the direction you want that community college to go.”
Allen said she believes community colleges are vital in this day when higher education is very, very expensive.
“It will be a wonderful thing if your college could be independent,” Allen said.
Responding the Allen’s remarks, Supervisor Shirley Dawson reiterated the position she took at a meeting in late November. “I don’t think that independence is a necessity.”
“I support the need for the college. Arizona needs to look at fairly funding rural colleges,” she said.
“This college and college board know full well there is not anything we need for our college that we do not receive. Partnering with EAC was one of the best things we could do.”
Dawson also said, “when we’re looking at a county that is strapped on tax dollars and every tax dollar is scrutinized” an independent community college would add to the burden of the taxpayer.
Allen countered saying, “We are looking at how to do (GCC) with what the school has now.”
Dawson said she wanted to see work done on getting the state to change the formula by which work force money is distributed so that Gila Community College receives that funding.
Supervisor Tommie Martin urged the conversation go far beyond just independence for GCC.
“I think the entire post secondary education (system) is even a bigger question than independence for this campus,” Martin said.
“I look at California and see they don’t follow what I think of as the arbitrary political boundaries of a county for their community college setup. They, in fact, follow along the lines of interest or like areas. To me it would be pretty interesting if we could align this college with Northland (Pioneer College in Holbrook) and Coconino and with areas that have similar interest.
“It seems to be a force fit in Arizona, not just in this county, but other counties. Our counties are so large and cover so much area and span so many different areas of interest it would benefit us to take a look at how it works all the way.”
Martin said she would advocate a restart of some governing body for community colleges or dismantle the board of regents and reorganize it so it takes community colleges into consideration.
“I just feel like (community colleges) fall through the cracks in a variety of ways and while (there are) those of us who’d like to see independence for this campus, it goes far beyond that.”
Allen said she agreed with Martin. “We’ve got to start thinking of different ways to do this in this situation where we don’t have a lot of money because (community colleges) are critical to us. I think the counties without community colleges like Apache and Greenlee … need to be pulled into the system instead of doing the expensive out-of-county tuition. So we need to totally revamp our education system.”
Later Martin explained why when Dawson spoke out against independence for GCC at the earlier meeting neither she nor Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Pastor responded.
“For clarification — because we got our butts kicked in the Payson Roundup (Dec. 3) — during our public comment portion anyone of us can bring something up, but if either of the other of us take it on, according to our county attorney, we have then opened the discussion of an item that wasn’t agendized and (are) breaching open meeting law.”
While Allen’s efforts on behalf of independence for Gila Community College continues, including the organization of a task force with two sub-committees, it will be only one of the balls she is juggling when the Legislature convenes Jan. 10.
“The No. 1 priority will be the budget and economy,” she told the supervisors. She added she wants to make sure any reforms can’t keep going back to the counties, especially the rural counties with their limited resources.
One of the reforms she wants is a total overhaul of health care, so it deals with catastrophic issues and more of the money available gets to the patients.
“A lot of third parties get money before it gets to the people, so we need to eliminate the layers,” she said.
Part of Allen’s visit included a tour of the county jail facilities in Payson.
“We have more problems with our jails than prisons. (In rural counties) they are old, small and crowded,” she said.
The poor conditions complicate the safety of officers.
“Public safety has to be a priority,” Allen said.