The working relationships of the Maricopa Community Colleges with three nonprofit community organizations have been the subject of banner headlines in recent weeks. Contrary to the impression created by such dramatic coverage, these relationships are not secret, nefarious, nor attempts to misuse public monies.
Like most public educational institutions, the Maricopa Community Colleges have constructive working relationships with many organizations — foundations, government agencies, corporations and nonprofit groups.
Such is the case with the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, the East Valley Partnership and the Arizona Community College Association.
Sometimes the colleges support the work of other organizations that are pursuing a mission in common with the colleges. In other cases, the colleges receive funding for specific work consistent with their mission (but specifically identified by the entity providing the funds). Any funds received in such an arrangement are separately tracked and used solely for the specified purposes. In these instances, each specially funded employee is hired to do this work pursuant to a written agreement. Each remains an employee only for as long as the funding continues.
The basic missions and goals of ACCA, ABEC and EVP align with the colleges’ missions as established in state law and board policy. ACCA was created with the sole purpose of advancing and supporting Arizona’s community college districts. ABEC’s promotion of teacher education fully aligns with the colleges’ educational and workforce development mission. EVP’s dedication to workforce development is well-known.
The agreements, developed as the three organizations were being established, provide for district employees to work with the nonprofit organizations, at the direction of the nonprofits’ boards. The agreements also provide for the nonprofits to fully fund the work of these employees.
Representatives of the Maricopa Community Colleges serve on the board of directors of each of these organizations and work collaboratively to set the organization’s policies and oversee the activities of the specially funded employees.
The employment relationships with ACCA, ABEC and EVP were entered into in good faith by all parties, following legal review, and with full knowledge and disclosure by the various boards of the organizations and the district. Many community leaders, both public and private, sit on these nonprofit boards.
Following the district’s typical practice, the employees involved were assigned existing job titles from the college’s master list, but their specific responsibilities were detailed in the work agreements they signed. Because their responsibilities involved working with the nonprofit organizations, they had, in effect, two titles, one within the personnel system, and a more specific, functional title for their work with the nonprofit organizations.
All three nonprofit organizations reimburse the colleges for current expenses of salaries as well as the employer portion of all benefits, including health insurance and retirement contributions. The employees pay their portions of the benefit costs. The colleges pay nothing (although they do pay membership dues to each organization).
The district reviewed these arrangements in late 2007 after a district accountant noted a finding in a report by the Auditor General’s Office regarding Santa Cruz County. The auditors had suggested that Santa Cruz should not advance the cost of salary and benefits to “any individual, association or corporation,” even though those costs were reimbursed.
Based on that finding, we began re-examining the agreements and chose to terminate our employer/employee relationship with the specially funded employees working with ABEC and EVP. An orderly transition is under way.
We are continuing our review of our relationship with ACCA, which was created with the sole purpose of advancing and supporting Arizona’s community college districts.
Well-intentioned experts may ultimately reach different determinations as to the appropriateness of these arrangements, which were established by a previous district administration. We welcome review of these arrangements by the Arizona State Retirement System and the auditor general. We have always welcomed such reviews; in fact, the auditors have office space set aside in our administrative offices for their use.
The Maricopa County Community College District remains dedicated to advancing teaching and learning in our county. We have always sought private-public partnerships to achieve our goals and leverage public resources. Our partnerships with these three community nonprofits were not a “plot,” as it has been described, but rather a means to advance our efforts in education and workforce development.
It’s time to set the record straight, something we have tried previously without success to do through written statements and in-person interviews.
Rufus Glasper is chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges.