Gila Community College’s budget next year will increase 10 percent — not counting tuition.
The debate over whether the college’s budget should list the $1.6 million it expects to collect in tuition stirred strong debate Monday and a confused call to Eastern Arizona College’s chief financial officer at a meeting Monday afternoon.
The budget presented Monday featured an increase from the $4.1 million spent this year to $4.5 million. However, next year’s proposed budget is 26 percent lower than the $6.1 million budget adopted last June that the college subsequently reduced because of cuts.
The budget plan includes continued furloughs for administrative staff four days each month, but board members will discuss changing the tuition schedule, including waivers for senior citizens.
A true, year-to-year comparison between budgets was difficult because EAC hasn’t released final figures for how much tuition the college collected this year.
Members held the meeting to approve publishing the budget. Members will formally approve a budget at the June 17 meeting.
Meanwhile, a debate led some board members to say leaving out the number would mislead the public, while CFO Tim Curtis said including the number would mislead the public. EAC collects the money, and Curtis credits GCC for money it owes EAC.
Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores proposed asking the state auditor general who should report the tuition, and GCC board member Larry Stephenson said he would make that call.
Ultimately, board members agreed to print a footnote on the budget, soon to be published in newspapers, that says the college doesn’t collect its own tuition — EAC does.
Board members also disagreed on whether the state statute that requires GCC to contract with another college for diplomas prohibits GCC from collecting tuition.
“What statute is that?” asked Stephenson.
“The one that established the provisional community college,” replied board chairman Bob Ashford.
“I’m aware of the statute,” said Stephenson. However, he said collecting the tuition is just a formality. The county assessor’s office collects property tax, for instance, but the college still reports that money, he said.
GCC should report its tuition revenue, Stephenson said. “Well, that’s not the way it works,” said Ashford.
Although the state’s FY011 spending limit for GCC hits $7.9 million, the college’s actual budget amounts to just $4.5 million. That includes a $400,000 reduction in state aid to $658,000.
However, factoring in the unreported tuition, the college will collect $6.1 million in revenue next year.
This year, GCC only projects to spend $4.1 million, however, because of cutbacks that occurred after board members approved last year’s budget.
Since GCC is a provisional college, it received roughly $800 per student from the state this year, while EAC received more than $9,000 per student, according to information from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.
Officials also expect the college to break even this year. GCC solved an approximately $2-million shortfall by furloughing administrative employees four days each month, hiking tuition 30 percent, and reducing tuition waivers for senior citizens.
Last year, board members discovered the college had a $2-million shortfall shortly after passing a budget that listed $2 million in reserves. That budget also did not list tuition.
“There’s nothing sleight of hand,” said Ashford. “By statute, GCC doesn’t collect tuition.”
Cullen said listing tuition would mislead the public because EAC also reports the money in its financial documents. “I would like to see it on there too,” he said.
Last year, Bryan Chambers, an attorney for the county, issued a legal opinion on whether not listing the tuition was legal. However board members can’t discuss that opinion until the decision is listed on the agenda.
However, board member Tom Loeffler said nothing in the statute prevents the college from listing tuition on its budget. “That’s by contract, not by statute,” he said, adding that the college should list the money. “We’re obviously going to be spending it, either on overhead or instruction or something.”
Stephenson agreed. “We, as a governing board, should account for $1.5 million and maybe not just in a footnote.”
Ashford called CFO Curtis, who then joined the meeting by phone. “In theory, you don’t collect any tuition,” said Curtis. “It’s misleading because you’re not collecting it.”
Ashford said, “The people up north are saying it’s misleading if you don’t put it on.”
Curtis said the college would have to increase its expenditure limit to $6.1 million if it included the $1.6 million in tuition. As GCC collects tuition, Curtis said he credits the income against money GCC owes EAC for overhead. GCC pays 25 percent on top of all expenses to EAC.
“It’s not a revenue source,” Curtis said. The money simply reduces the college’s bills.
Loeffler said taxpayers need to know how much it actually costs to run the college.
Ashford said, “We can have a footnote in there to satisfy the public.”