College closure a false rumor

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Craig community college officials said Thursday that talk of the campus closing if referendums C and D failed was nothing but a nasty rumor.

"There's nothing to that," said Bob Rizzuto, interim president of the Colorado Northwestern Community College. Officials say they have not warned employees that the campus would close with the failure of the hotly contested measures that voters will decide Nov. 1.

Dire predictions about the consequences for community colleges in general and Craig's campus in particular should C and D fail had been bouncing around town for several days.

Referendum backers have warned that if referendums C and D fail, state agencies, including education, would face harsh budget cuts.

Referendum opponents say there is no budget crisis in Colorado and that the state budget has risen consistently in the past several years.

Referendum C asks Colorado voters to forgo an estimated $3.7 billion that would otherwise be credited back to taxpayers under state law. Money from the referendum would be used for transportation, health care, education and pensions for police officers and firefighters.

Referendum D is a bond measure for capital construction projects, primarily roads and schools. The bond debt would be paid in part with 10 percent of the revenues from Referendum C. If Referendum C fails, so does D, but C can pass without D.

The college, which has campuses in Craig and Rangely, has been forced to reduce the number of classes and offer fewer courses because of state funding cuts.

Between 2004 and 2006, state cuts will have sliced $1.35 million from the college's budget.

The state subsidizes 55 percent of the college's the $6 million general fund. The remainder comes from tuition and student fees. The Moffatt County Affiliated Junior College Dist--rict levies a property tax that the Craig campus uses to pay for new programs, facilities, student assistance and some staffing. The levy generates about $900,000 a year for the campus but can't be used to pay professors.

Rizzuto declined to speculate about the future of the Craig campus if C and D fail.

The campus serves about 350 full-time students. About 2,200 students take courses at the college, which employs about 25 to 30 people. The campus offers nursing, cosmetology and paralegal courses, among others. For the college to close, state lawmakers would have to change a statute, a maneuver that would be politically unpopular.

"I think when you go to close a college, there would be a big brouhaha, and it also takes legislation to do that," said Dean Hollenbeck, vice president of the Craig campus.

Still, Hollenbeck said, the possibility of more state funding cuts doesn't bode well for higher education.

"There are dollars that would have to be made up," he said. "There's a lot of different ways to do that; higher education always seems to be the target."

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