Frustrated by their seeming powerlessness, two Gila Community College board members have written to Eastern Arizona College President Mark Bryce, urging him to ensure GCC administrators follow policy set by the GCC board.
At a November board meeting, the board approved opening $40,000 worth of scholarships annually to second-year nursing and teaching students, in addition to first year. The scholarships were set to start in January.
However, in December, GCC Senior Dean Stephen Cullen e-mailed board members, informing them that academic scholarships would not be available in the spring semester, nor would they become available during fiscal year 2011, due to a funding shortage.
Traditionally, administrators follow the direction of boards. However, the existing operating agreement between GCC and EAC gives EAC power over personnel.
This limits the ability of GCC’s board to ensure that GCC administrators follow GCC policy, wrote board members Tom Loeffler and Larry Stephenson in the letter to Bryce.
That same agreement allows the governing board to make policies, the letter read.
“By its very nature, boards are generally designed to make policy and administration is designed to put said policies into practice,” the letter read.
“We trust that you support this position and would ensure that your employees working at GCC campuses would follow legitimate GCC governing board policies when properly enacted,” it continued.
Bryce did not respond to a request for comment before press time.
Although the GCC’s deficit is projected to reach $743,000 by the end of this fiscal year, raising tuition and charging senior citizens is expected to generate $250,000 each semester.
Adding to the sense of futility, three board members recently outvoted Stephenson and Loeffler to pay $40,000 to a lobbyist who contractually must side with EAC.
Gila County is not able to operate its own community college because population counts and its property values fall beneath legislatively set thresholds. EAC operates GCC, controlling its finances and the hiring and firing of personnel. GCC administrators are employees of EAC.
The GCC board wanted to offer scholarships to nursing and teaching students because those professionals are in short supply, and also to show senior citizens that “some of their newly imposed tuition fees would help the next generation,” according to the letter.
Cullen defended the decision to not offer student scholarships, writing in an e-mail that “we have never had a nursing student unable to attend classes because of the lack of funding.” He said increased federal Pell Grants are available to help students unable to pay.
In the letter, Loeffler and Stephenson wrote that not all students have been able to receive Pell Grants. Some students have said the increased tuition will price them out of GCC, they added.
Enrollment figures for the spring semester have not yet been made public.
This is not the first time GCC’s board has made a decision that Cullen, or another board member, later overturned.
In October, board members agreed to ask voters for a $1.2 million secondary tax levy to address the school’s deficit. However, the next month, board chairman Bob Ashford informed the board that the election would be postponed, possibly until November to allow for more time.
Ashford has also recently come under fire from board members for refusing to place requested topics on the agenda.