1/23/2014 12:23:00 PM Bob Oliphant resigns from College board
'No one addressed what I consider to be a major gap in our education opportunities over here'
Bob Oliphant: “You sort of see the situation as being one of hopelessness, and you work very hard and prepare thoroughly, but I simply give up. I have these other engagements that are very important to me that need more of my time.”
Evolved, not wasted: College says funding, economy influence Yavapai programs
By Yvonne Gonzalez
The Yavapai College board is looking for a new member to fill in until a November election after Robert Oliphant resigned this week over the school's plan to eliminate several rural programs over the next 10 years.
Yavapai College Board Chair Ray Sigafoos said in a statement that Oliphant's "different point of view" was helpful to the decision-making process.
"I've enjoyed working with Bob over the past year," he said. "He injected ideas into our discussions that we might otherwise not have considered."
Oliphant was the only no vote in December when the board voted 4-1 to pursue a 10-year plan that eliminates programs created by a $69 million taxpayer-supported bond passed in 2000. He pointed to the Camp Verde, Chino Valley and Sedona campuses, among others.
The plan recommends the Sedona film school and Chino Valley Paulden campus be sold in the next 10 years, proceeds going toward funding the rest of the $100-million proposal.
This is the first of a three-phase process to get the plan approved, according to a statement released Wednesday afternoon by Yavapai College spokesman Mike Lange. Board members are now focusing on phase one projects and developing a financial plan.
He said if the school decides to pursue a bond, taxpayers are not responsible for the type that will "likely" be used to finance the other half of the campus master plan's price tag.
"We funded the last CMP with general obligation bonds, a portion of which are still outstanding," he said. "Since the last Campus Master Plan in 2000, the Arizona legislature has expanded the types of projects for which revenue bonds can be used - most notably classrooms can now be financed through revenue bonds."
This move by the legislature shows that the state acknowledges that community colleges "needed additional tools to address their capital needs."
Still, Lange said this is only one of many types of bonds being considered. Unlike a revenue bond, the general obligation bond passed in 2000 had to appeal to voters in all areas of Yavapai County.
Projects created in rural communities using the $69-million bond evolved over time, Lange said.
The Camp Verde Campus, opened in 2003, was closed less than 10 years after opening due to low enrollment and "markedly decreased state funding" in 2010-11, Lange said.
A partnership with Mayer High School is still working to provide Cordes Junction with "needed classes in this area," using 2000 general obligation bond funds. The 2000 campus master planned anticipated a 6,000-square-foot facility along the HW69 corridor, but Lange said the population did not grow as expected.
"We now have a 1,440-square-foot facility there," he said.
The Northern Arizona Skills Center has evolved, but continues to "be used to provide science and other pre-nursing and Allied Health coursework as part of the new Campus Master Plan."
Yavapai College did spend about 80 percent of the general obligation bond money on the Prescott and Prescott Valley campuses, but Lange said this alone is misleading.
He said the school has invested more per full-time-equivalent student at the Verde campus, at $75,000, than at the Prescott, $37,000, or Prescott Valley, $25,000, locations.
This is in addition to $18.7 million invested in the school over the past two years from bond money and the college's savings, as well as completing the teacher winery later this year, a cost of $2 million, he said.
"The Verde Valley campus is a beautiful, state-of-the-art campus that is poised for growth," he said. " ... We do not foresee the need for major additional capital improvements until the student body grows significantly."
The Prescott Valley campus, however, is projected to see the most growth out of all the campuses in the next 10 years.
A $37-million Center for Excellence in Nursing and Allied Health is planned at that location as a result, along with housing Emergency Management Systems and Emergency Medical Technology programs.
"Prescott Valley is centrally located to county populations," he said. "The new campus will serve the needs of the whole county without the added cost to taxpayers of creating multiple versions of the most costly career programs, such as nursing."
The sole 10-year facilities plan dissenter on the Yavapai College Governing Board has resigned after members decided 4-1 in December to move into the budgeting phase of the process.
Robert Oliphant was the only member to vote against continuing to support the current draft of a facilities master plan that spells out $100 million in capital improvement projects and was first discussed by the board in November.
Oliphant was one year and 20 days into a six-year term that started Jan. 1, 2013.
"I thought that I could be a strong voice for the people in the third district who have been badly underserved, in my judgment," Oliphant said. "That was my primary motivation, to try and more effectively serve the people here in the Verde Valley."
A bond issue in 2000 allocated $69 million in taxpayer-backed money to capital improvement projects. Oliphant said in order to appeal to the whole of Yavapai County, funds were slated for the college to expand to rural areas.
These programs and the funds used to get them up and running, Oliphant said, were "seemingly wasted."
At least three programs that were started using bond money approved in 2000 are being eliminated by the new 10-year plan. The Camp Verde campus has been opened and closed, the Sedona campus will no longer offer the film program, and the Chino Valley-Paulden campus with its Agribusiness and Science Technology Center will soon be closed.
The Sedona campus was outfitted using bond and federal dollars to be a cutting-edge film school in 2008, and may transition again to house a culinary program.
A Cordes Junction partnership with Mayer High School was supposed to create a 6,000-square-foot educational center, but Oliphant said this was never opened.
The $3.1 million Northern Arizona Regional Skills Center was set up at the Verde campus in 2004 using bond money and federal funds.
"About three and a half years later, it simply vanished," Oliphant said. "No one has explained. Why was the Camp Verde campus open and closed in such a short time? No explanation."
To develop the Southwest Wine Center, Oliphant said it was "very clear" that a dormitory or some kind of student housing facility would be needed, but this was not part of the 10-year plan.
The 10-year, $100-million capital development budget sets aside $37 million for a Center of Excellence for Nursing and Allied Health in Prescott Valley.
He said the Prescott campus "already" has a range of programs, including a three-year Prescott Valley bachelor's program in partnership with Northern Arizona University that was started in 2010, and a vocational training center.
"The vocational training development is fantastic, but it's not accessible to any high school student on this side of the county," he said.
The new 10-year plan emphasizes growing the Career and Technical Education Division, either by purchasing 4 or 5 more acres of land in Prescott or expanding to Prescott Valley. Oliphant said asking students to make a 90- to 150-mile round trip to access quality vocational training is unreasonable.
"No one addressed what I consider to be a major gap in our education opportunities over here," he said. "It's something this side of the county should have been working on for the last 40 years."
Half of the $100 million cost to make these improvements could come from the sale of campuses as spelled out in the master plan, and the other half will likely be drawn from some sort of bond.
The Daily Courier in Prescott reported in December that Herold Harrington, YC governing board spokesman, said the college might pursue revenue bonding. Unlike a general obligation bond that is repaid through tax dollars, and therefore must be approved by voters, revenue bonds are paid back using funds generated by a revenue-producing enterprise and, as a result, carry higher interest rates.
Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter announced and is accepting applications for the Yavapai College board's third district spot. Carter is accepting letters of interest from potential candidates to fill the vacancy.
Only District 3 residents can apply, among other restrictions, and letters of interest must be submitted by Feb. 14.
Candidate information will be available Feb. 17, with interviews before a five-person committee Feb. 19-20. The public can provide input during the Yavapai County Board of Supervisor's Feb. 21 meeting in Cottonwood from 2 to 4 p.m.
The term runs from Feb. 24 through Dec. 31, with the candidate with the most votes during this November's election serving the remaining four years.
Retired from law since 2006, Oliphant writes legal textbooks and has held leadership positions in the community. A Yavapai County Schools news release cited "family commitments, work schedule, and publication deadlines for legal books" that he authors as the reason for his resignation.
"I'm sure that the superintendent will find someone who will fill my seat who will be well qualified and who will hopefully have a better experience than I had," Oliphant said.
Work deadlines take precedence over the low return Oliphant said he was getting on the effort and preparation required of a board member.
"It was clear that there was nothing I could do to alter that decision," Oliphant said. "You sort of see the situation as being one of hopelessness, and you work very hard and prepare thoroughly, but I simply give up. I have these other engagements that are very important to me that need more of my time."