The Wyoming Community College Commission (WCCC) has approved Campbell County's application to form a new community college district in a unanimous vote on Friday, November 20.
Gillette College is currently a part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District (NWCCD), which is governed in Sheridan County due to the taxing structure. The formation of a new district in Campbell County would give residents more power over decisions at the college by allowing residents to vote for its own board of trustees.
Rusty Bell, a Campbell County commissioner, has been a vocal advocate of creating the Gillette College Community College District. After the meeting, he said it was good to hear the commission understands that the college is important to Gillette's economy.
"I think everybody understands when you don't make your decisions at a local level and the decisions are not being made here, that's not really healthy for any of the people involved," he said.
Budget cuts made over the summer were the catalyst for the county pushing for its own district. Many were upset over a lack of direct participation in the decision making for NWCCD.
The WCCC received Campbell County's application on Sept 1, which kicked off a 90-day period in which the WCCC had to complete numerous research steps and hold two public hearings.
On Friday, a third party group delivered its findings on studying the financial practicality and other measures.
Concerns about financial impacts to NWCCD and other districts have been present by many throughout this process.
At a public hearing in October, representatives from Eastern Wyoming College, said that with state budget cuts and looming economic problems, now isn't the time to divide higher education funding.
"We question the timing of this application....the colleges have been given a 10 percent reduction in general funds with the possibility of another 10 percent. This is the wrong time for Campbell County to pursue a new community college district," Lesley Travers, president of Eastern Wyoming College, said.
However, researchers from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, who performed the third party research, said the decision of whether to approve the application really centers on the county's desire for local control.
Wyoming Community College Commissioner Gregg Blikre, who is from Campbell County, said this has always been about self-governance.
"What we're talking about here is a community, a county, that has been working hard to fund all of education in this state for many many many years and all they're asking for is the ability to have a local voice in what's presented at their own college," he said.
Jackie Freeze, the WCCC chairwoman, said this approval is cause to celebrate.
"Northern Wyoming Community [District] was a good mentor and a good partner and has stood by Gillette as you move forward. And it's time to cut the strings if you will, and go down that lane of your own destiny," she said.
The commission's approval is only the beginning of the process. The matter will now head to the state legislature where lawmakers will vote on the application. If approved, it would move on to voters in Campbell County.
There's already a draft bill for the lawmakers, Bell said.
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