Everyone on the Gila Community College board seems to agree they don’t have enough information on their own budget to make crucial decisions.
But they mostly disagree on what they should do about that.
Board member Tom Loeffler triggered an inconclusive discussion of the issue at the board meeting last week when he suggested the board hire its own full- or part-time finance director.
“The state audit showed we are less than stellar in our financial report,” he said of a recent review of the board’s financial control systems. “I believe every one of us has experienced some problem in understanding the monthly reports” provided by Eastern Arizona College.
GCC is one of two provisional community college districts in the state, which means it has to contract with an accredited school like EAC to oversee academic programs. GCC’s contract also makes almost all of the staff employees of EAC, which controls the college’s budget and tacks on a 25-percent overhead fee.
EAC provides the board with a monthly budget summary, but uses an accounting format that makes it all but unintelligible to most board members. Loeffler and other board members have complained that they cannot get specific information when they need it, whether it’s an accurate estimate of the projected budget deficit or how much money a tuition increase will yield.
The state audit upheld many of those complaints, making sweeping statements about the lack of oversight and reporting.
Loeffler argued that the GCC board needs to hire its own financial director, who could extract the information the board needed from the financial reports issued by EAC. He said he doubted that Dean Stephen Cullen had the time to supervise both the academic programs and ride herd on the budget reports.
“Dean Cullen’s main job should be academics. I think a finance director would be able to provide an understandable monthly report.”
Loeffler said such a position would enable the district to move toward independence, instead of relying on EAC for its credentialing. “We are moving into a new arena.”
He said one member of the county board of supervisors had recently told him “it’s time our board grew up and became accountable.”
President Larry Stephenson supported the need for better information. “It is necessary for the board to get a handle on its finances. There must be some way to get a succinct monthly report. I’ve tried to make sense of (the EAC monthly report) and I can’t. But the position of a finance director is a separate question.”
Loeffler noted, “Last year the Legislature gave this college the power to become an independent entity at some later date. The first thing we have to do is get someone with some financial background to lay that out.”
However, other board members said they did not think the college could afford to hire anyone.
“We do have to find a system that will work,” said board member Armida Bittner. “We’re still growing and we’re still having growing pains. It’s the finances of this proposal that concern me.”
Board member Bob Ashford from Globe agreed. “We need someone massaging our information and a format we can understand. I always worry about where we’re going to get the money. It’s going to be a $100,000 job and we still have people on furlough. It’s a need, but I don’t know what the answer is.”
Stephenson concurred. “It’s kind of chicken and egg — what do we do first? Could we start with a part-time position as we evolve and grow?”
“Or maybe even a contract position,” said Loeffler. “We don’t even know if we have the funds that could pay for that.”
Dean Cullen said he thought he could get EAC to prepare some sort of a more comprehensive budget tracking report each quarter when it submits its invoice for payment on its contract.
“If we knew exactly what the board was looking for,” added Cullen, “it would be easier to get that out…We might start the process to get that out to the board in a more palatable format.”
Stephenson applauded that idea. “We could make more informed decisions — like on tuition and course fees. We’re just flying blind.”