We all know that public opposition to a community college education means a bleak future for our community members. We also know that community colleges have traditionally served as the best and last chance for many regardless of age. What we don’t seem to know or even inquire about is the genesis of education propositions and, despite their explanatory blurbs which we use as a basis for our vote, we fail to track how our approved tax dollars are actually applied. So it is with Proposition 481.
Proposition 481 is a proposed spending Limitation override vote that asks Pima County voters to allow Pima Community College to spend 11 millions of dollars beyond their constitutional spending limitation.
Pima Community College is being a bit underhanded when they ask for more spending authority. Here is why: Recently, Pima Community College authorized a general revenue bond that raised $65 million dollars earmarked for the College’s so-called centers of excellence. This is the first part of a plan to spend more than $157 million dollars over a five year period! This bond has a payback amount (debt service) of more than $3 million dollars a year. PCC received $65 million just last year by way of this legal general revenue bond that avoided formal public approval. Investigation reveals that most of the $65 million has not been spent to date. Those funds, according to the educational plan, were supposed to be used to fund the “applied technology” areas at the Downtown Campus. Some of those existing funds can also be re-directed and spent on college needs without violating the constitutional spending limitation.
Since Chancellor Lambert came on board in June of 2013, the college has raised property taxes BY 2 % PER YEAR, tuition rates BY MORE THAN 30% PER SEMESTER HOUR, and student fees HAVE MORE THAN DOUBLED every single year, thereby burdening students and Pima County taxpayers with unheard of and unfair increases that have pressed the College’s budgets up against the constitutional spending limits. All this at a time when enrollment continues to decline at a rate of more than 5 percent per year.
In the last three years, Pima College has bought land around the Downtown Campus with several structures on the National and State historical preservation list. The cost? More than $5.5 million. At least one of those buildings, the Tucson Inn, is a condemned building. The plan is to renovate the Tucson Inn and two other old hotels that sit on Drachmann street and the lands that were purchased. Estimates say that it will cost more than $10 million dollars to restore the Tucson Inn and another $10 million dollars for the other two buildings in order to bring them up to code. This is a potential cost of $20 million dollars to the taxpayers of Pima County! Why restore, renovate and preserve? Could it be because the Pima Board of Governors Chairman, Mr. Clinco, is the Director of the Tucson Historical Preservation Foundation? Could this be a direct conflict of interest? It is a well known fact that the land was acquired for the dirt, not the dilapidated structures!
So Mr. Lambert wants to build, baby build, while the enrollment numbers continue on a steep decline. The only increase in enrollment has been on-line courses! This means new facilities with no students to fill them! In addition, Pima Community College has approximately $75 million dollars in a reserve fund. This money is considered “Spending Limitation Credits.” In other words, if needed, Pima College may spend some of that money WITHOUT overriding the constitutional spending limitation.
Part of what’s wrong with Proposition 481 is that Pima Administration has violated their own policy as well as the Federal Hatch Act which, in essence, precludes any employee of a public institution that receives federal funds from political involvement that benefits them.
Chancellor Lambert, a board member of SALC (Southern Arizona Leadership Council) was involved in the formation of the Political Action Group being led by the business group, SALC. Executive Director Ted Maxwell is the treasurer and Nancy Johnson, a member of SALC and CEO of El Rio Neighborhood Health Center as the Chairman. These two, with the help of former Tucson Mayor Rothschild will direct YES ON PROPOSITION 481! TO TOP THIS OFF, THE PIMA COLLEGE FOUNDATION, A 501c(3) CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION WHO IS SUPPOSED TO PROVIDE STUDENT SCHOLARSHIPS, HAS DONATED $100,000 DOLLARS TO THE SALC PAC!
Do not the IRS rules that govern charitable organizations frown on organizations that engage in political activities? How many PCC scholarships could be provided to students with $100,000? So much for Lambert’s argument that Prop 481 is for the good of students!
In addition, there is more evidence of further violations of their own ethics rules and the Federal Hatch Act because PCC staff wrote prop 481 support statements for certain Board members to sign off on. In fact, behind the scenes, the Chancellor approached one Board member to sign on to the measure because it would benefit Hispanic students! Another was told the measure would be good for Native Americans!
The notion that Hispanics can only talk to Hispanics and Native Americans only to Native Americans, is evidence that, at Pima, systemic racism prevails!
LET’S BE CLEAR: CHANCELLOR LEE LAMBERT DEFIES THE HATCH ACT AND PIMA COLLEGE ETHICS RULES WITH HIS PROPOSITION 481 ACTIVITIES. HE IS UP TO HIS KNEES IN CONFLICTS OF INTEREST!
Questions must be asked: The College has a $75 million “rainy day” fund that is exempt from the spending limitation, why not tap that fund for student and faculty needs? Why have some of the $65 million never been applied to meet student/classroom/faculty/staff needs and why was that money collected without a public vote? Why does the Chancellor want override approval in order to fund more of the “centers of excellence” when the funds obviously will NOT be used to raise per pupil expenditures? The answer: the money is for bricks and mortar! Why Restore the Tucson Inn and other dilapidated buildings when demolition and building new structures would save millions of dollars that can be used for real student, faculty, and employee needs?
Big business will support Proposition 481 because its language appears to guarantee trained employees. But that’s a big if! That training will not be done by our local businesses but rather by outside businesses like Trane, Inc and Snap-On, Inc who are directly tied to Chancellor Lambert! We can do local training by partnering with JTED and local businesses, not by catering to a few big corporations of which the Chancellor is a board member!
Pima College lacks oversight to track how the funds are spent. Indeed, there is no accountability.
There is no doubt that attorneys selected by Chancellor Lambert (Former Tucson Mayor Rothschild and company) will see to it that the language of Proposition 481 meets legal muster and appears to be transparent. Who could vote against Pima Community College, which has, until recently, been a revered institution in Tucson? Who could knowingly deny someone of the chance to receive training to prepare them for more than an entry level position? But isn’t there anyone who will demand oversight of the College and ask for an outside financial management audit? Not even members of the Pima College Board of Governors ruling majority, who have been kept in the dark and simply trained to rubber stamp what the Chancellor demands, feel entitled to question and receive that information! One day perhaps the Tucson community will call for oversight of the Board of Governors, too, for they have failed in their fiduciary responsibilities. On November 3rd, send a strong message to incompetent fiscal management practices.
VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 481
Luis A. Gonzales, former State Senator and former Pima Community College Board member, District 5
Barbara Benjemin, retired community college professor