Despite two cancelled Gila Community College task force meetings, Sen. Sylvia Allen said Wednesday that she is still prepared to introduce legislation removing roadblocks to independence in January.
“I’m going to introduce that bill,” said a determined Allen. “I said I was and I am.”
The task force has worked since the spring to ultimately erase state property tax base and population thresholds that bar the county from operating a fully accredited college.
Accomplishing the goal will require lawmakers to pass new legislation. However, the college also needs a plan outlining how it will transition into an independent school. Two separate plans have emerged from the task force, one from each of its subgroups. Allen said she cancelled the meetings to allow the subgroups more time to work.
GCC must apply for accreditation, a process that can take up to a decade to complete. Before applying, several years could pass while the college builds departments such as the registrar.
During the accreditation application period, a candidate college is granted temporary accreditation, and so it must operate as any other fully independent college would.
Because GCC now operates under Eastern Arizona College, EAC provides fundamental services such as the registrar. Before GCC applies for accreditation, it must build those departments and offer those services in-house.
If the Legislature removes the thresholds and opens the way for GCC to apply for independence, GCC will still have to contract with another school for services until it develops its own.
It could contract with EAC, since the relationship and infrastructure already exist, but it could also work with another institution.
Sometime soon, GCC must open talks with EAC about the work ahead, said Allen.
Gila County’s plan lacks popularity in Thatcher, where EAC is located. Allen said she suffered hits during the election for backing GCC’s quest for freedom.
“I just had to keep sending out my side of it,” said Allen. People in Thatcher believed that an independent GCC would take state money set aside for rural community colleges away from EAC. The rural schools money, called equalization funds, will likely undergo changes next year as the lawmakers balance the budget.
The issue is both complicated and controversial. The task force hasn’t decided how it will handle it.
Adding to Thatcher’s wariness, EAC would no longer receive the 25 percent overhead fee that GCC pays to EAC on top of all expenses — everything from salaries to light bulbs.
“The competition thing has to be set aside; the money has to be set aside,” said Allen. “GCC has given money to EA, so yeah, EA is going to have to figure out how to let go of that money.”
Ultimately, said Allen, EAC officials will have to recognize that GCC deserves independence and local control as much as they do.
See Tuesday’s paper for a more in-depth task force update.