As I was not able to attend the public hearings on the budget, I contacted Anna Camacho, my representative on the Arizona Western College Board, about why they needed to increase their budget. I was informed that AWC’s tax levy is determined by the amount of the new year’s budget and that their budget is determined using a formula that is “involved” and uses “last year’s levy, new construction, and this year’s new levy.” This is a circular claim that claims to use this year’s levy in both sides of the equation. AWC also claimed that the 1.73 percent tax increase is actually a 3 percent decrease. Either they cannot do basic math, or they assume I cannot.
Since I could not get a straight answer from AWC, I called a different community college in Arizona and asked about budget rules. They referred me to the Expenditure Limitation statutes which limit the maximum that the budget can be. In short, it appears that AWC feels they are entitled to the maximum budget, and tax rate, allowed by law. Unfortunately, as it stands right now, AWC is a bad investment for La Paz County residents.
Enrollment at AWC is declining and the expenditure per student is increasing. La Paz County residents pay about 13.8 percent of the taxes AWC receives, about $7.7 million. La Paz County makes up about 9 percent of the AWC District population. If 9 percent of the full-time students are from La Paz County, then there are 423 La Paz students at AWC. At 423 students, La Paz County residents are paying $18,300 per student per year. By comparison, tuition and fees at Grand Canyon University, a private four-year university which receives no tax support, is $18,100 per year.
Since 39 percent of our population is over 65, odds are 423 students is too high. Only about 120 high school students graduate in La Paz County each year, and most of them do not go to college. I believe the La Paz share of the student body is around 100 students, and that AWC is extracting $75,000 per student per year from La Paz County. This is on par with paying for Harvard or Yale. All of it going from one of the poorest counties in Arizona to a college with programs that require students to go to Yuma to complete a degree.
AWC claims that they are “the pipeline for job creation and employability of La Paz County citizens.” I sincerely wish that were so. Unfortunately, AWC does not provide the technical training locally in our community needed to drive growth in La Paz County. According to AWC’s published statistics, over half of all students live with their parents. This is not an option if you live in La Paz County. For the few who can afford to move to Yuma, to complete a degree or certificate from AWC provides a way out of a disadvantaged are, not a way to develop our community.
We need things to change in La Paz County. I fully believe that education is the path to prosperity. La Paz County cannot realistically detach from AWC. We can and should demand more for our tax dollars. We need to hold our elected representatives, Anna Camacho and Richard Lamb, accountable for their actions. I suggest that AWC take the $7 million it receives from La Paz County and establish La Paz Community College with in-person classes in Parker and Quartzsite focused on creating skilled labor. The taxes would not feel so painful if we saw our community thriving. With reform, maybe La Paz County does not have to be one of the least educated, poorest counties in Arizona.
Ken MacFarland, MBA, Psy. D.