Campbell County residents to vote on independence for community college
The test started in the summer of 2020, after the Northern Wyoming Community College District announced significant budget cuts resulting from the state’s economic crisis and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
District president Walt Tribley said there had been previous attempts in Campbell County to separate from the community college district, but this time it was different. For many at Gillette, it started as a fight to get rid of track and field programs.
“The first time it was very publicly and very clearly communicated [and] was in reaction to the cuts that were made by the district, in very, very difficult times, ”said Tribley.
Having cleared several hurdles since last summer, the community will decide by vote in August whether to become an independent district community college or stay in its current situation.
The Northern Wyoming Community College District is made up of Sheridan College, Sheridan College in Johnson County, and Gillette College.
Sheridan County is the district’s fiscal county, which means businesses and residents of the county pay the taxes that partially fund it. It also means that the county is fully represented on the district administration board. For many this is the other major issue, including Mark Englert, who worked for the district for 33 years and is the former vice president of Gillette College.
“When you have an elected board of directors making decisions and connected to their community, then all of your decisions relate to the needs of the community,” Englert said.
With control ultimately resting with Sheridan at this time, Englert said that doesn’t allow Gillette to be so flexible.
“It is the responsibility of this community college to be able to respond in a timely manner to these needs, whether they are full academic programs or a certificate program, or even selected courses,” he said. he declares. “And if you can’t do that, if you don’t have the capacity to make the decisions that meet that local need, then basically you are not a true community college.”
But to become independent, Gillette will have to vote to win, perhaps between two and four mills – a tough sell in Campbell County.
But Englert said it was a worthwhile investment.
“We recognize the cost, that it’s a tax. It’s a property tax, there’s no getting around that,” he said. “But for example, for an owner who owns a $ 300,000 house, if the trustees chose to take three mills, that represents an investment of 85.50 cents per year to support the college.”
Campbell County State Representative Bill Fortner disagrees.
“The reason is that there is really nothing we’re going to get out of Campbell County with the economy shrinking,” he said.
Fortner said the additional tax would be a burden on property owners and businesses, and it’s not something the community should shoulder during this time of economic uncertainty.
“This is a tax that is a direct attack on our mining industry, uranium, coal, oil and gas in Campbell County,” he said. “It’s not only the Campbell County food chain, but it’s the food chain for the rest of the state as well. The state depends on Campbell County to do good.”
Fortner said that in his opinion the administrators of Sheridan and the district itself have done a good job. He is happy to continue to have the neighboring county foot the bill.
But Englert said there is value in retraining a local workforce and with the business leaders he spoke to, they agree.
“They realize the value of a community college by ensuring that you continue to have a well-prepared workforce, even if the business has to change, even if they have to change direction and look at different markets, you have to have something in a place where you’re not trying to attract workers from outside, but you can prepare them locally, ”he said.
But even if the county approves the tax, there is still a long way to go. It will take years for Gillette College to be fully accredited and completely separate from the District.
District President Walt Tribley said despite the financial impacts it could have, he hopes they will be successful.
“Make no mistake this college is what it is today, thanks to the industry, the hard work, the vision, the passion, the money of the people of Campbell County, and this is because boards of directors have backed it, presidents have supported it, the staff has supported every bit of this growth, ”said Tribley. “So I think in the future I would like to see people in Campbell County support a higher education institution.”
Tribley said if that passes, the district will still be there for students and staff and the relationship won’t go away. And if that doesn’t work out, he said there would be problems, but ultimately things would work out fine.
“On August 18, regardless of the vote, students are enrolled in courses at the Northern Wyoming Community College. Our faculty is in place, our staff is in place, our administrators are in place. We are budgeted for it. ‘year. We are good to go in that direction or in that direction, you know, we are here for the education of our students, “he said.
The Campbell County special election will be held on August 17, with early voting already underway. In addition to voting on whether to create a new community college district, residents will also be able to vote for the board of directors of the potential new district.