With Arizona State University potentially building a campus in Payson, at least one Gila Community College board member worries that contractual limits could hamstring the board’s powers to negotiate a relationship with the school.
On Dec. 12, board member Tom Loeffler wrote chairman Bob Ashford, asking him to schedule a work study session members decided to hold months ago. Members wanted to discuss the existing contract, the college’s finances and an action plan to gain accreditation, among other things. Ashford has not yet responded to the letter.
“I thought he was going to answer by now,” Loeffler said. “To be fair to him, he may not appreciate what’s happening up here with ASU,” he added. “He may not appreciate the urgency of my request.”
At a regular November board meeting, Ashford said he was waiting to hear if a grant had been approved before scheduling the meeting because a grant had many ramifications. He did not respond to a phone message left Monday.
The existing contract between GCC and Eastern Arizona College forbids the college from making most managerial decisions, including the hiring and firing of personnel, approving class offerings and balancing its budget.
Loeffler wants to enter into any potential negotiations with ASU as an “equal partner” — not as a child who must ask permission from a parent before agreeing to anything.
The ongoing budget fiasco has highlighted GCC’s limitations. GCC board members have merely been informed of key decisions they would ordinarily have decided upon with a vote. Those include postponing a secondary tax levy election they earlier approved and furloughing administrative staff four days each month.
Most recently, Senior Dean Stephen Cullen notified board members that academic scholarships, senior citizens waivers and employee furloughs would still be in effect for fiscal year 2011.
Some board members have expressed frustration about the board’s enfeebling.
“Why do you need a board if you’re going to do that on your own?” Loeffler wondered.
When the board decided in August to raise tuition 30 percent to help solve the now-estimated $743,000 budget deficit, board member Larry Stephenson characterized the difficult decision as one that nevertheless exercised the college’s existential rights.
Curiously, two separate clauses in the contract explicitly state that EAC has sole control over tuition.
Loeffler hopes that EAC’s tacit approval of the leeway could provide for allowances on other provisions.
“I feel much more comfortable trying to move away from other provisions in there because when it suits EAC’s purpose financially, we apparently can move away from the language in that contract,” Loeffler said.
Meanwhile, board members have grappled with the unexplained overturning of their decisions.
In November, Ashford told board members the previously approved 25-cent secondary tax election was canceled.
That same meeting, board members approved extending $40,000 worth of scholarships already available to second-year nursing and teaching students in addition to first-year students.
However, Cullen later clarified that no funding was available for scholarships. He pointed to increased federal Pell Grant scholarships to help students pay for tuition at GCC, which is now the highest community college tuition in the state for full-time students.