Gcc Pleads For Budget Bailout

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Faced with another potentially rough budget year, the Gila Community College board approved a plea for help from Gila County.

The board last week agreed to ask the county to give the district $300,000, even though the county last year finally turned over ownership of the current campus and an additional 25 acres of undeveloped land to the district.

The county has signaled that with the land ownership transfer, it may stop providing the $300,000 annual subsidy it gave when the county owned the campus.

Once among the fastest-growing districts in the state, last year state reports project Gila Community College will have among the biggest enrollment declines in the state.

That decline will compound difficulties created by a state budget that provides little help for faltering community colleges, despite projections of a state budget surplus of between $600 million and $1 billion.

Budget analysis compiled by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee noted that while community college enrollment has risen 7 percent statewide, GCC’s enrollment may decline by as much as 8.2 percent.

The JLBC analysis assumes that the Legislature won’t restore any of the $72 million cut from community college budgets last year. In fact, despite the enrollment rise statewide, spending for community colleges will decline from about $86 million to about $81 million. By contrast, community colleges in fiscal 2011 had $152 million in funding from all sources.

A dramatic decline in state aid accounted for most of that drop. State aid stood at $98 million in 2011, declined to $33 million this year and will rise to about $35 million in the upcoming year, according to the JLBC projections. That increase stems from statewide enrollment growth. The number of full-time equivalent students in the state increased from 136,000 in 2010 to 146,000 this year.

Gila Community College remains the battered stepchild when it comes to state funding, thanks to its status as a provisional college — dependent on Eastern Arizona College for its credential.

State funding for Gila Community College stood at $658,000 in 2011, declined to $428,000 in 2012 and will decline again to $410,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, according to the JLBC report.

The state has also eliminated an extra $3 million it used to provide to rural counties to help fund community colleges and $1.7 million it used to provide to tribes.

GCC has also lost out on a major source of support for rural colleges, which struggle because their districts include so much federal land that they have a paltry property tax base. “Equalization” funding for four rural community college districts in the upcoming year will drop from $35 million to $28 million. Still, that means a $17 million budget boost for EAC in Graham County. If GCC had formed in time to get in on the equalization pot, it would have roughly doubled its budget.

Instead, the GCC board is bracing for a rough budget year.

On the other hand, the board also learned that the district should get an extra $81,000 from the state for workforce development classes, like the Payson campus’ nursing program. That money comes as a result of a struggle last year to give GCC access to a statewide pot of funding for vocational classes, despite its provisional college status. The district won the right to the funding, but only about one-third of what other community college districts get.

Senior Dean Stephen Cullen told the board at a meeting last week that he talked to county administrators about extending the support payments for at least another year.

“I really believe we’ll be able to garner that amount of money, for building maintenance and utilities.

With three months left in the fiscal year, GCC has already spent $260,000 of the $300,000 the county provided for the current fiscal year on utilities and maintenance.

“We’ll have to see what they say about next year,” said Cullen.

He noted that the county provided support in the first place because the formation of the GCC district 12 years ago saved Gila County residents $1 million in extra tuition costs they had to pay as out-of-county residents. He said that number would amount to at least $1.5 million now.

“I don’t want to say we’re holding the county ransom for that amount, but it does give credence to our position” in asking for continued county support, said Cullen.

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