Pima is at limit with expenditures

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By JOE GIDDENS

Pima Community College’s finances are in excellent shape because a majority of its income is from property taxes.

These are increasing, but the trend of lower enrollment means less tuition revenue and makes up about 30% of the college’s income, according to David Bea, chief financial officer for Pima.

The remaining 3% of the college’s income comes from sources such as investments, which has also seen growth in recent years. Last year, the college received $3 million from returns on investments that allowed for a number of one-time projects focused on increasing enrollment. Investment earrings are outside of expenditure limitation.  

This one-time influx of cash to the college was used by the Pima College Board of Governors on initiatives to increase enrollment such as the launch of a $1 million marketing campaign with a focus on the digital space. Additionally, the college will be launching a redesigned website late next month.  

However, increased tax revenue legally doesn’t translate to an increase in spending by the district because of the expenditure limitation law in the state of Arizona. 

Expenditure limitation is a constraint on the growth of property taxes. The constraint is tied to the population an institution is serving. It’s an Arizona state constitutional provision that voters approved in June 1980.   

“For us, the population served is our enrollment,” Bea said. “Our ability to spend is tied to an inflation measure for how much expenses were back in 1980.”

In order to comply with the voter-approved expenditure limitation, the college has been reducing its budget by $15 million over the course of three years. Some of the major changes that have included eliminating the football program last year. Other sport programs might be cut in the future.

The discussion of the shuttering of the golf program was a contributing factor in Pima Athletics scrambling to recruit new players as its season gets underway, according to Pima Sports spokesman Raymond Suarez. 

Pima’s student enrollment peaked in 2011 at about 23,000 full-time students and presently has the potential to drop below 14,000, according to Bea. The Spring 2020 enrollment headcount stands at 18,868, which is a 2.4% drop from the previous spring’s 19,330, according to the Feb. 3 Daily Registration Report. 

Declining enrollment decreases the revenue that the college brings in; however, it has the compound effect of limiting how much the college can spend because of expenditure limitation laws in Arizona.

The college also has an inefficient space problem, according to Bea. For example, about a quarter of students take online classes, leaving the district a little too spread out across Tucson. The closing of Community Campus was one measure to consolidate space. While no additional campus closings are being discussed, the question now is the level of services offered at the different campuses.

Some of the positive changes cited by the administration to address service is the opening of the East Campus Passport Center to bring in new revenue; hiring more students to assist the counseling department at the start of the semesters; and the Downtown Campus reopening the bookstore with food service in the same space.

However, one negative student service change is the absence of finical aid advisers at the Northwest Campus, with student representatives at the Board of Governors even offering to have bake sales if it would restore its presence.  

The Northwest Campus is attempting to use technology to assist its limited staff, according to Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Dolores Durán-Cerda. Some examples she cited before the board were video chat and a chat bot that can be used by students district-wide, including the rising number of online students.

However, the Office of Financial Aid will have 10 additional staff members that will allow for in-person finical aid counseling again by appointment only at the Northwest Campus, according to Durán-Cerda.  

The college’s administration is presently lobbying the state government to change how its STEM students are factored into its spending. In effect, it would increase the amount the college could spend, because STEM programs cost more to operate. 

“The ramifications for Pima College are enormous,” said Pima lobbyist Jonathan Paton at the Feb. 6 board meeting. “If we can get this through this, it would actually outweigh any budget item.” 

Presently the college gets a 0.3 multiplier for STEM programs.  

“We’re looking to get a full 1 point all multiplier on STEM programs,” Chancellor Lee Lambert said. “So in other words for every one FT (full-time equivalent). We get to count that as two full-time students.”

Lambert pointed out that this wouldn’t be a tax increase but is about being able to spend money the college already has. 

Other budget news included the discussion of putting bonds for the college before the voters in November’s general election. 

Also, at this time, salary increases for Pima employees are tied to a tuition increase.

In December, Bea presented on the budget, and he stated that college leadership could fund an increase to salaries by raising tuition to Faculty Senate. 

  The tuition increases will be discussed at the next Pima Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. March 11 at the District Office, 4905 E. Broadway Blvd. 

Joe Giddens is a former editor for the Aztec Press. Follow him at @joegiddens4

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