Letter: Take claims of Sigafoos and Wills with grain of salt

Editor:

Per your article of April 21, 2017, it appears that Yavapai Community College President Penelope Wills and Board President Ray Sigafoos have undergone a sudden epiphany when it comes to concern for the underserved student populations in the County. The article suggested they were “considering putting more money in the pockets of students who need it most.” It went on to say that they had “expressed interest in finding ways to increase access to education for the underserved lower socioeconomic populations within the County.”

The article quotes Sigafoos as claiming that: “I’ve made the point the last 10 or 12 years, that when we increase the tuition, we ought to be putting aside a bit of that tuition toward some sort of institutional scholarship, so we can keep those people who need those extra dollars.”

Pardon me if I find Mr. Sigafoos’ statement hard to swallow and the sudden change in direction by Penelope Wills less than persuasive. Here is why.

Recall one year ago that Wills’ decided to impose a $10 per credit dual enrollment fee on the head of every County high school student taking courses for college credit taught in high schools by high school faculty. Also recall that the prospect of this fee was fiercely opposed because of its adverse impact on the underserved in the County. Every school superintendent in the Verde Valley, every member of the Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee, and the two Verde Valley representatives then on the District Governing Board opposed the fee.

The Verde Valley superintendents were so concerned that they sent a joint letter to Sigafoos and Wills pleading with them to not impose the fee because of the adverse impact it would have on the underserved lower economic population. Former Mingus Union high school Superintendent Paul Tighe personally addressed the Board explaining that such a fee was unnecessary and would have a detrimental impact on the underserved.

Despite the unanimous opposition from the Verde Valley, Wills asked the Board to approve the fee in March 2016. Ray Sigafoos cast the deciding vote (3-2) to approve imposition of the fee.

You might also recall that in 2010-11 Sigafoos agreed with the College to cut $1.2 million from the institutional scholarship budget. He must have known that many of the scholarships aided the underserved. What remained after the cut was about $800,000 in institutional scholarship aid with an estimated 75% being awarded to student athletes recruited by the College with almost all of them coming from outside the County, state and nation. Little, if any, was intended for the underserved student population.

Concern for the underserved is nowhere to be found in the wild six-year construction spending spree driven by Wills and approved by Sigafoos. The construction bender began in earnest in 2011-14. During this period, Wills and Sigafoos spent $20 million for construction on the Verde Campus and another $20 million or more for construction on the Prescott Campus. A portion of this revenue could easily have been redirected to restore the $1.2 million cut in institutional scholarships.

Incredibly, the Wills-Sigafoos construction obsession escalated in December 2013. This is when Wills’ requested and Sigafoos approved spending an additional $103.5 million for construction. Once again, concern for the underserved was nowhere to be found.

The bottom line is this: If Wills and Sigafoos have experienced an epiphany when it comes to the underserved student population, they can demonstrate their enlightenment on May 9, 2017, which is the next Board meeting. Rather than Sigafoos rubber stamping Wills’ request to spend another $6 million to $8 million on construction, parking lots, and renovation, Wills can offer to cut or Sigafoos can by motion move to eliminate the unfair fee imposed on high school students that affects the underserved. They can also reallocate a portion of construction revenue to institutional scholarships. Or, divert $825,000 allocated in the planned maintenance budget for a better drain for the baseball park to institutional scholarships for the underserved students. (There’s $4 million in the planned maintenance budget.)

After all, don’t you agree that the underserved lower socioeconomic students in the County deserve a higher College priority than a new drain for the College baseball park!

Bob Oliphant

Cottonwood

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