Tarred, Feathered And Riding In Style

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Abraham Lincoln loved to tell the story of the fellow with an active sense of irony who got tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. A horrified friend asked him what that was like.

“Well,” said the fellow, “if it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I’d rather have walked.”

That could apply aptly to the experience of getting the Arizona Legislature to address a serious injustice.

Just ask Gila Community College supporters.

The saga started years ago when the Legislature cut a sweetheart deal with a group of rural community colleges. Lawmakers set up a special pot of money for rural colleges to compensate for their low assessed value, but promptly rewrote the rules to make sure no other counties could form a college district.

Alas, Gila County got played for the sucker in the shell game. So Gila Community College had to accept second-class citizenship as a “provisional” community college. That requires GCC to contract with another district to gain accreditation. It also locked the district out of extra support for things like vocational classes.

As a result, GCC has both the least state support and the lowest costs of any community college in the state. That’s true even though GCC’s lopsided contract with Eastern Arizona College (EAC) features a 25 percent overhead charge on every dime it spends and gives the GCC board little control over policies, curriculum, budgets and tuition. What a deal.

Sen. Sylvia Allen won broad support in Rim Country last year partly on the strength of her promise to give GCC a way to gain independence — and maybe even get its fair share of things like Workforce Development money. Gila County taxpayers have been supporting this vocational funding for other community colleges for a decade, although GCC remained locked out of the pool by its provisional status.

Sen. Allen worked diligently throughout the session to win passage of one bill to allow GCC to gain its independence and a second bill to make the college eligible for the $280,000 annually in Workforce Development money it should have been getting for the past decade.

Sen. Allen calculated that opposition from other colleges would kill the bill if it allowed GCC to get its share of the equalization funding for rural colleges. That cost the students and taxpayers of Gila County $6 million annually. That’s dreadfully unfair — but seemed politically inescapable.

At least we’ll get the $280,000 in vocational money. Right?

Someone heat up the tar.

The House Higher Education Committee has the feathers.

Over in the House, Rim Country’s representatives went missing on this vital issue.

Someone should see if they can get photographs of Chester Crandell and Brenda Barton printed on milk cartons. They’re definitely among the missing on this issue so vital to their constituents.

Although, come to think of it, we did hear a rumor that Barton got a bill through designating a Rex Allen ditty as the official state song.

Alas, a few well-placed words from several other community colleges prompted the head of the House Higher Education Committee to hold the bill hostage to an amendment that cut Workforce Development funding from $280,000 to $80,000 — and even that $80,000 has to go through EAC for its big honking hunk.

Unfortunately, Sen. Allen capitulated and accepted an amendment that will likely cheat Gila County students and taxpayers out of their fair share of Workforce Development money for the next decade.

Ah, well.

We did get that rail ride all the way through town.

Could have been worse. Right?

Got to look on the bright side.

After all, GCC can now begin the long journey toward independence — providing the board can get its whatnot together.

Hopefully, voters will now insist that the GCC board quit its endless bickering. The board must draw up a realistic plan to achieve independence — starting with a renegotiation of its contract with EAC.

The board has a lot of work ahead to heal its own divisions and move toward the independence so vital to students and the region’s economy.

So buck up, boys. It was a heck of a rail ride through the Legislature. Now you gotta spit out the feathers, yank the tar out of your hair and get on with business.

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