If you’re getting bullied — form a little gang of your own.
That’s one way to sum up Gila Community College’s effort to form a fair-treatment alliance with Santa Cruz Community College — the only other provisional community college district in the state.
Last week, the two governing boards had a joint, online meeting to discuss whether they should band together to lobby the Legislature to treat the two small, provisional districts the same as it treats the rest of the community college districts in the state.
GCC board member Thomas Loeffler said he hopes the partnership will help the two districts push for the same amount of money for workforce development classes and other programs as the rest of the state’s community colleges.
“The other community colleges are meeting with the governor and Legislature. Instead of fighting them, we want to link up with them. If you look at the two districts, 10 percent of the Legislature has parts of the college districts in their legislative districts.”
Santa Cruz and Gila counties both formed community college districts after the state Legislature had essentially slammed the door on new districts, after it had set up an “equalization fund” for existing, rural community college districts.
That equalization fund gives the five districts that receive extra money a sometimes substantial boost in state support, on the theory that the federal government owns so much of the land in those rural districts that they can’t raise enough money from property taxes to survive.
However, when Gila and Santa Cruz counties tried to set up their own full-fledged districts, they found the doors locked by a no-win state funding formula. As a result, they not only get far less money per student than most of the other rural districts — but they miss out on lots of extras like money for vocational classes.
For instance, GCC last year for the first time received $175,000 in money for workforce development classes — but it would have gotten $375,000 if treated equally with the other, non-provisional districts.
When it comes to per-student state funding, Gila Community College now gets about $450 per student from the state and Santa Cruz gets about $273, due to an arcane state funding formula. By contrast, most of the other community colleges get two or three times as much per student.
On the other hand, the Legislature in the past three years has slashed support for community colleges throughout the state — which has at least reduced the disparity between GCC and other districts.
General Fund state aid for community colleges dropped from $139 million in 2010 to $72 million in 2012, forcing most of the districts to rely increasingly on tuition and property taxes. The state provides about a third as much money for operating funds as it did just three years ago. The Legislature has also virtually eliminated support for capital improvements and new facilities.
The Legislature has also cut back on equalization funding that community colleges in Cochise, Graham, Navajo and Yuma counties receive. If Gila County were in the equalization pool, it would have essentially doubled its $6 million budget.
The cuts came despite an increase in enrollment last year, as people have scrambled to enroll in community colleges to upgrade their work skills or change career paths in the face of the recession.
Loeffler noted that community colleges have been warned to expect a further reduction of about $25 for each full-time student equivalent (12 units) this year, despite a sharp rise in state revenues.
State aid provides about 8 percent of GCC’s budget. Tuition provides about 40 percent, property taxes about 55 and other sources like grants provide the balance.
This year, GCC received just $658,000 in state aid, the lowest total in the state.
Eastern Arizona College in Graham County got $22 million in state aid. EAC provides the credential and provides administrative services for GCC and in return GCC pays to EAC 25 percent overhead on everything it spends. Cochise County serves as the credentialing college for the Santa Cruz Provisional Community College District. Cochise County gets $14 million in state aid. Other state aid totals include $45 million for Maricopa County, $16 million for Pima County, $5 million for Pinal County, $10 million for Navajo, $3.7 million for Mohave, $2.7 million for Coconino, $4.2 million for Yavapai and $7.8 million for Yuma.
The difference in total state aid is startling.
For instance, in 2010 Gila County had about 1,050 full-time equivalent students — a figure that comes from taking all the units taken and dividing by 12, since 12 units represents a minimum full-time student load, according to a report produced by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. That works out to about $626 per student, a rate that has declined since. EAC had 3,012 full-time equivalent students and $22 million in total state aid — which works out to $7,302 per student, according to the JLBC figures. Maricopa County had 78,000 full-time equivalent students and state aid totaling $45 million, which comes to $578 per student.