Lawmaker Poised To Help Asu, Gcc

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A bill that would make it possible for Arizona State University to assume management of Gila Community College’s Payson campus should hit the overflowing docket of the Legislature this week.

Fifth District State Rep. Bill Konopnicki said he was ready to introduce legislation this week, before Monday’s deadline for new bills.

But even if the backers of the bill don’t work out the details by then, he said he will insert the language into a “striker” bill — an unrelated bill that has already moved through the process that can be discarded in favor of the target bill.

“I do not have the final details,” said Konopnicki of the planned bill. “I’ve been working with (Payson Mayor Kenny) Evans and we’re interested in trying to work things out. I don’t know where everybody is in the negotiations — they’ve agreed to keep things pretty private. So we’re just sitting on the sidelines to find out what, if anything, they need done.”

Fifth District Sen. Sylvia Allen said she also stands ready to sponsor a bill in the Senate to allow ASU and GCC to come to an arrangement by crafting an exception to the current ban on contracts between universities and community colleges.

“I’m aware of it and I’m totally in support of individual communities trying to work out education problems that fit the community. If it’s possible for ASU to get started there, I would support anything I can do. I know Payson has not been happy the way the community college has been running and that’s unfortunate. I certainly think we need a way to solve those problems.”

Eastern Arizona College in Safford runs Gila Community College and holds the credential. GCC is the state’s only such “provisional” community college, which means it gets half as much state aid per student and EAC administrators hire all the personnel and make all the key decisions, in return for a 25 percent overhead fee.

Evans has been in negotiations with ASU to bring a 1,500- to 6,000-student campus to town, located on 300 acres of Forest Service land across the highway from GCC.

Backers of bringing ASU to Payson have also explored the possible relationship between ASU and GCC.

Currently, state law prevents universities from contracting with community colleges, a measure community colleges have long supported to make sure they don’t get gobbled up by the universities.

The whole idea behind the Payson campus has been to create a college where students can get a Bachelor of Arts degree much more cheaply than at one of the existing university campuses. Therefore, making full use of the class offerings at GCC where students pay the much lower community college rate could enhance the plan, say people close to the negotiations.

However, working out an arrangement by which ASU could effectively assume responsibility for GCC’s Payson campus will have to avoid antagonizing the powerful community college lobby, which would likely oppose too broad an experiment.

In that regard, GCC’s status as the state’s only provisional community college could prove an advantage, since the bill granting ASU the ability to contract could be limited to provisional community colleges within a certain distance of a university campus — which means it would apply only to GCC’s Payson Campus.

Negotiators are continuing to work out the details and touching bases with the various groups that would be affected — and who might oppose the bill, said sources close to the negotiations.

Konopnicki said he hoped to finalize the details this week, to beat the Monday deadline. However, the Legislature’s special session this week on the budget could foul up the timing. In that case, said Konopnicki, “I have some other bills that we can use as a striker if we miss the deadline. I’m very interested in helping both ASU and Payson.”

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