6/19/2014 1:29:00 PM Yavapai College strengthens community outreach efforts
Herald Harrington: “We’re hoping that we get a good response, that people will actually do the survey,” he said. “Working through getting input from the citizenry into the college is always somewhat of a challenge.”
CLARKDALE -- Yavapai College calls it "ownership linkage," but the goal is to keep taxpayers in the loop as the school develops its programs and services, said board spokesman Herald Harrington.
A survey and the formation of dedicated advisory groups have been part of the college's recent efforts to gain input from the community while creating a permanent connection to the board.
"We're hoping that we get a good response, that people will actually do the survey," he said. "Working through getting input from the citizenry into the college is always somewhat of a challenge."
Board members decided to conduct the survey during last year's board retreat in September. This is shortly before the college hosted two forums to present the college's 10-year facilities master plan.
The October presentations were followed by an almost immediate backlash from students and city officials who were surprised to hear low enrollment meant the Sedona Film School was going on hiatus after this past academic year.
After the governing board voted in January to move forward with the plan, member Robert Oliphant resigned and started his own group to question the college's financial focus on the Prescott side of Mingus Mountain.
"The controversy that arose from the master plan was that it really didn't get on anybody's radar screen until later," he said. "There was quite a bit of community involvement."
An advisory group working directly with the board would be new for the college. On the board for 15 years, Harrington said there have been a variety of groups formed and dissolved and repurposed over the years as the needs of the college have changed.
"This type of high community involvement at the board level would give us better ability to make sure everybody is informed and give input into the process early on," he said.
Different processes for gathering information have been used, from surveys to meetings. SmithGroup JJR was hired to collect data, conduct community forums and analyze trends to create a draft of the master plan.
"The mechanism wasn't effective," he said. "So we got to step back from that and find out how to get people more engaged."
A company was contracted to draft the current survey on the college website. There have been more than 250 responses recorded so far, and Harrington said even though the college may not get all the information it wants, he is confident the data will be useful.
"I don't think we're going to get all the information that we'd like to have from any single survey," he said. "This is one tool we're trying to use."
The company's name and cost was not immediately available Wednesday, but Harrington said the real cost will come from mailing out postcards to the community informing them about the survey, set to go out at the end of this month, and then analyzing the data collected.
"I'm not concerned that the survey will not be of use to us," he said. "It all depends on how interested people are in engaging with the college and giving us their input."
Clarkdale campus dean James Perey is forming an advisory committee to help him target curriculum and programs at his campus.
Meanwhile, the governing board is working with mayors and community groups to put together its own advisory group.
"In general, we feel we need a more broad-based way to get information into the college and governing board, to feel the pulse of the community," he said.
There has never been, Harrington said, an advisory group that worked specifically with the governing board.
"I feel putting together a group of citizens that have the time and the interest to help us understand the needs people have will help us target future programs and facilities in the Verde Valley," he said.
A selection process for the members of this new group has not been determined, but Harrington said the college itself would by no means be involved in the selection process.
Sedona Mayor Rob Adams said he is concerned the advisory committee at forming out of the Clarkdale campus may not be formed objectively.
"There are concerns among certain people in the Verde Valley that this advisory committee is being formed by the staff and administrators of Yavapai College," Adams said. "The municipalities should be making those appointments."
He said while this is a great first step in getting public input, the group likely won't have an understanding of the budget to direct programming and curriculum. He's working to gain support for this two-pronged approach among the mayors of the five municipalities and the unincorporated areas served by the college.
Harrington said though Yavapai College won't be making the final appointments, the five mayors could be possibilities for the governing board advisory group, and the county supervisors may be putting some names forward as well.
"I would hope the advisory committee would be able to make sure everybody is informed of what's happening," he said. "I don't know that you can always avoid conflict. People will disagree with some of the decisions the college makes, but we're responsible for using taxpayer money wisely, and we can have honest disagreements about that."