Ariz. community colleges form council
Hope unified voice is more effective
The 10 community college districts in Arizona are forming a council to represent their interests at the Legislature.
While the two-year schools already have a lobbyist, the new Arizona Community College Coordinating Council soon will hire an executive director who can push the colleges' agenda and fight for a share of Arizona's education funding.
Arizona Western College president Glenn Mayle explained that the AWC District Governing Board approved the measure at a board meeting in November, although it had been in the works for months.
During the monthly meetings of the presidents of the Arizona Community Colleges, Mayle said, they had often discussed the issue of raising the profile of the important role that community colleges play in the state.
The Arizona Community Colleges currently are represented by one lobbyist, which sometimes results in a delayed response or bills being passed without the input of all campuses, he said.
Creating this “clearing house,” Mayle said, will allow for the state senators and the governor's office to hear from one person instead of them getting input from 10 schools to find out how a proposed piece of legislation will impact the colleges.
“It's also about making sure the mission and purposes of community colleges is represented with a clear, concise, competent voice, and the story is accurate, and that it represents all 10 colleges equally,” he said.
The council, which will report to the district governing board, will cost $300,000 to operate, with the new CEO earning $75,000 for a half-time position.
Each district will pay a portion based on its student population, with AWC paying a little more than $12,000 per year and Maricopa paying the largest share at about $176,000.
Randy Hartless, AWC Governing board member, said at a board meeting that the cost is reasonable for the college.
State funding to community colleges has significantly decreased over the past few years, including a cut of $8.1 million since 2008 to AWC, which serves La Paz and Yuma counties.
Mayle said a huge hit to the campus was the cut to capital outlay dollars that finance equipment, supplies and upkeep of the campus.
“The state actually took that out of the budget completely. We've received no capital funding,” he said.
Mayle hopes the unified voice of the colleges will be more effective and result in needed funding from the state.
“I do believe having a central clearing house is going to make our needs known at a level that our legislatures will fund it, because 10 community colleges working together — we provide the largest workforce in the state,” he said.
Rufus Glasper, chancellor of the 10-college Maricopa district, said that having an insider as an advocate for the colleges probably would not have prevented budget cuts to campuses.
But he cited Proposition 204, the education-funding sales tax that voters rejected in November, as one example in which the lack of a strong advocate hurt the state's community colleges.
“If you look at Prop. 204, the community colleges in Arizona would not have gotten any resources from that until collections had exceeded $1 billion,” he said. “The current collection rate is around $900 million, so even if it passed, we would not have received anything.
“When the discussions were about who should be part of that first $1 billion, it was ‘Let's talk to K-12 and let's talk to the universities.' We were not considered a factor,” Glasper added. “We would like that to not happen in the future. We want a seat at the table because we know we're the largest provider of workforce training and we need someone to talk about what we do.”
Glasper said the current lobbyist is familiar with the Legislature, while the council's executive director will be an expert on community colleges. That person also will work with the media and the education community.
The council's executive director will probably be hired in the next few months and will likely be a retired president or chancellor of a major community college system.
Besides Yuma/La Paz and Maricopa, the other districts are Navajo, Cochise, Coconino, Graham, Mohave, Pima, Pinal and Yavapai.
*The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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