SHERIDAN — Wyoming Community College Commission members hosted the second of two listening sessions Wednesday to gather public input on whether Campbell County should have its own college district.
The WCCC is tasked with evaluating the need for the state, financial ability to support the college and educational soundness of the proposal.
Gillette College representatives kicked off the meeting with a presentation outlining why they believe the school should be its own district. Classes have been offered in Campbell County for more than 50 years, and supporters of the proposal see the separation of Gillette College from the NWCCD as a natural evolution. In addition, by creating a district in Campbell County, they hope to gain more local control over the governance of the college.
Walter Tribley, president of NWCCD, also spoke at Wednesday’s event highlighting a concern about funding from the state.
“With all that is going on in our state and our world, a community that loves a shining college is a good thing…” Tribley said. “The only caveat to that very positive message is that Gillette College — if it becomes its own college district — needs to be funded and funded well. Not just in the first year or the second year, it needs to have a sustaining funding source going forward.”
He added if Gillette College becomes its own district, it must happen in a way that doesn’t take funding away from the colleges that currently exist.
During the public comment portion of the event, Gillette College Advisory Board Chairman
Robert Palmer said the effort to create the district isn’t meant to harm any of the existing seven community college districts.
“Our goal is to get the share that is currently coming to us to continue coming to us,” Palmer said of how the Campbell County taskforce anticipates funding to be divvied up from the state.
While the financial impacts will be part of the needs assessment done by Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, how the split would impact other districts remained unclear during Wednesday’s meeting.
Robert Baumgartner, chairman of the Eastern Wyoming College Board of Trustees, told the WCCC that his board passed a resolution against the formation of an eighth community college district Tuesday night.
“The thought of adding an additional community college district would have to be based upon a compelling state of Wyoming interest,” he said. “The application that was submitted… does not do that.”
Baumgartner added that the proposal from Campbell County does not include any additional programs that are any more beneficial than programs already offered at other community colleges. With projections for high school enrollment in the state decreasing in coming decades, Baumgartner added, the need for an additional community college is decreasing, not increasing.
“This will result in diminishing share of an already inadequate source of funding for the seven existing community colleges,” Baumgartner said. “The EWC board of trustees feels that the establishment of another community college will further weaken every existing community college in the state and definitely opposes the proposal.”
Bill Fortner, the Republican candidate for House District 52 in this year’s election, repeated the concern he voiced at the first listening session, which is that he does not believe residents or industry in Campbell County want to pay any additional taxes that would be required to support Gillette College.
Part of the process for Campbell County to create its own college district will be a county election to approve a mill levy, but that comes after approval from WCCC and the Wyoming Legislature.
Others who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting again emphasized the loss of the athletic programs, among other concerns regarding local control. The loss of athletics, commentors said, have resulted in diminished diversity on campus.
Other comments focused on close relationships Gillette College has formed with local business representatives — including the extraction industry and health care, among others. Those relationships, speakers said, would help to support the college.
WCCC expects to receive the needs assessment survey from WICHE by Nov. 6. Then, a special meeting of the commission will take place Nov. 20 in Cheyenne. A decision is expected to be made there.
Following review from WCCC, the Wyoming Legislature will consider the proposal before it goes before Campbell County voters to approve a mill levy.