Gila College Shortchanged In State Tax Aid

Eastern Arizona College gets 9 times as much state money per student as Gila Community College

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Arizona’s bizarre community college laws bar Gila County from operating its own school, while providing other rural districts with up to nearly nine times as much money per student.

For instance, Eastern Arizona College in Graham County, which runs Gila Community College, received $8,300 per student in total state aid — seven times the state average —during fiscal year 2009.

GCC, by contrast, received just $950 per full-time student — 28 percent less than the state average.

And huge, urban counties like Maricopa fare even worse under the system, with colleges there receiving just $797 per full-time student in total state aid in 2009. The state average that year was $1,200, according to figures from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

Although state law bars Gila County from operating its own community college because its tax base is too small, it also awards huge amounts of funding to counties like Graham, which has an even smaller tax base. Graham County was grandfathered into the statute which set population and assessed value thresholds, while GCC didn’t form as a provisional district until 2002.

Gila County contracts with EAC to provide classes and diplomas, paying it 25 percent on all overhead and relinquishing control over daily decisions, while EAC receives nine times the student funding as GCC.

Because GCC is a provisional college, it is ineligible for so-called equalization aid, which compensates rural community college districts for having a small tax base. The state also provides operating aid, based on full-time student enrollment.

The baseline assessed valuation required to form a fully accredited community college changes every year, virtually assuring that Gila County’s will never increase enough. For fiscal year 2011, the tax base threshold is $1.7 billion.

Graham County, with the smallest assessed valuation in the state at $222 million, is estimated to receive nearly $20 million in equalization aid for fiscal year 2011.

EAC, in Graham County, is also set to receive $4.5 million in state operating aid that year.

GCC, however, is set to receive nothing for equalization and $775,000 in state operating aid. Gila County’s assessed valuation for tax year 2009 was nearly $375 million more than Graham’s.

To meet population requirements, a county must have 40,000 people over the age of 15. Gila County met that requirement in the last census.

While GCC scrapes by financially, furloughing employees four days each month and reducing senior scholarships, EAC should have $20.5 million in carryover by the year’s end.

GCC’s deficit is now estimated to reach $743,000 by the end of the year — information that board members fought for five months to get.

Also contributing to its financial difficulties, Gila County has the second lowest community college tax rate in the state, at 53 cents per $100,000. Graham charges homeowners $1.80 per $100,000 for its community college.

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