Gila Community College board member Thomas Loeffler abruptly resigned his position this week, blasting fellow board members for “irresponsible decision making.”
Loeffler said the last straw came when the board on a split vote slashed tuition rates by 25 percent and reinstated free tuition for seniors in response to a sharp drop in enrollment in the past two years. Loeffler complained that the board had not analyzed the impact of such a move, which could slash revenues by $400,000 if it doesn’t boost enrollment.
In his letter of resignation he wrote, “I and others see no way the college can remain viable if this type of irresponsible decision making continues. Already the staff is thinking that furloughs will have to be established again. Positions were cut out of the budget that began this July 1 and more will have to follow if my projections are accurate. With this type of action based on no facts I currently see no bright future for the community college.”
By statute, County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell can appoint a replacement to serve until the next election.
His resignation hints at the reopening of the bitter divide between the two North County board members and the three board members from South County, which had seemed largely mended since Larry Stephenson, from Star Valley, took over as board president.
Loeffler played the leading role in winning a change in state law that seemed to open a path for GCC to become an independent, accredited district, instead of a provisional district dependent on Eastern Arizona College for its accreditation.
North-South divisions paralyzed the GCC board for years, with the South County faction led by board member and president Bob Ashford staunchly defending the contract with EAC, which required GCC to pay an administrative fee that amounted to 25 percent of everything it spent. The board operated for several years without bylaws after a split board repealed all the rules to extend Ashford’s term as president.
Ashford stepped aside and Stephenson became board president.
However, the divisions reappeared in recent board meetings as the board grappled with the impact of vanishing state support and dwindling enrollment. The board had previously eliminated free tuition for seniors then reinstituted a reduced rate and then finally restored the tuition waiver. At the same time over the past three years, the board had raised tuition substantially. The once nearly free community college classes now cost full-time students younger than 55 roughly $1,000 per semester.
Loeffler said the board members from South County have apparently resumed voting as a block, making decisions without the facts to back up the changes.
“My education and employment background has enabled me to acquire the necessary skills and understanding to achieve progressive goals that require an organized financial philosophy based in facts. I have tried for several years to bring a certain logical dimension based upon facts and studies to our GCC board meetings. I have come to the realization that the majority of the board does not accept this philosophy.”
He continued, “when research and facts were presented and completely ignored in decisions that affected the future viability of the college it was very disheartening.”
He said when he objected to the lack of projections of figures supporting the proposed 25 percent tuition cut a month into the fiscal year, the other board members position “was ‘we’ll try it and see.’ It should be noted that with this reduction and increases in instructor salaries and administrative cost in making these changes the hit on the already passed budget could approach $400,000. With this ‘new’ tuition schedule the high school graduating seniors are subsidizing the senior citizens (who has more discretionary income?) and the full-time students are subsidizing the part-time students.”
Loeffler said he didn’t want to continue work on the board under those circumstances. “I do not want to be associated with a group that may bring the college down. I believe I have given my best to provide an avenue for a bright future for this community college, both academically and financially, and my efforts have always been thwarted by the Globe members at every turn. At this time I believe my limited talents may be of use by another organization that would be more deliberative in their decisions.
“I apologize to the voters in Payson,” he concluded.