Wyoming's Senate voted to move forward with a bill that would allow Campbell County to form its own community college district.
The bill would set up the framework for the separation of Gillette College from the Northern Wyoming Community College District. If the legislation passes, Campbell County voters would have to approve a ballot measure for the new college district to be created.
Due to funding concerns of the current district, senators approved an amendment by Sheridan Sen. Bo Biteman and Gillette Sen. Jeff Wasserburger that would allow the district to receive its state funding for both Sheridan and Gillette Colleges until the new Gillette district receives its full accreditation.
"Gillette college cannot become an independent community college, until it is fully accredited. Right now, Gillette College is fully accredited under Northern Wyoming Community College District," explained Wasserburger. "It has to earn its own accreditation. In the best case scenario, accreditation takes at least two years, probably five years."
Once the college becomes independently accredited, then a Campbell County mill levy would start earning revenue, which would take about a year, he added.
"Everything else generated locally in Gillette will stay in Gillette. Up to accreditation Sheridan College will continue to get the state share, and once the accreditation happens, that's where the cliff and the separation is. And that's where the breakup is final," Sen. Biteman said.
Sheridan Sen. Dave Kinskey, though, said this is not the time to create more division in the state. Instead, lawmakers should work on unifying the community college system.
"We cannot pay for the seven districts we have now. And those colleges are critical, critical to the future of our economic diversification," Kinskey said. "You've heard this discussion: four mills, two mills, as many mills as you need, where the money is going to stay, it is a confused hodgepodge that drives our community college system, and it needs to be completely overhauled."
Devils Tower Sen. Ogden Driskill said the debate on the separation is about local control, since passing the bill will only allow the local community to vote on the issues themselves.
"Are we going to allow the voters to either form a district or not? And I think when you boil it down to that, I think you're being pretty narrow-minded if you won't allow the local citizens to do something that is in statute," he said.
Senators voted to advance the bill. It will be debated two more times.
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