NWCCD president opposes bill for new college district

GILLETTE — As a bill that would push the creation of a new community college district in Campbell County to a public vote sits with the Legislature, previous expressions of support from the Northern Wyoming Community College District are waning.

On Friday, NWCCD President Walter Tribley sent a letter to state legislators voicing his opposition to the bill proposing the creation of a Gillette College Community College District.

He asked that the bill be amended to include a $3 million annual payout to Sheridan College during the new district’s accreditation period.

The bill, “as it is currently written, is not something I can support,” Tribley said in the letter. “Nor can I remain silent any longer.”

Sheridan College expects to lose about $3 million in annual funding in the event of a split, he said. If the bill is to pass the Legislature, the issue would come to a vote in Campbell County for final approval or denial.

“The $3 million contributes in part to infrastructure-related costs that remain and will be downsized considerably through the transition,” Tribley said in the letter. “This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division. We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.”

In return, Tribley said NWCCD would give Gillette College the revenue it generates through enrollment.

“More details will need to be worked out, but service to students must remain the top priority and all students deserve stability and certainty,” he wrote.

Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Campbell County, who sponsored the bill, said that he and the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, responded to Tribley, “essentially saying we don’t have the authority to make that guarantee.”

“I was very disappointed,” Wasserburger said Tuesday. “I never quite had that reaction from a public official before. The idea that we would begin negotiating on that issue prior to the bill passing the Legislature and a vote of the people of Campbell County seems premature to me.”

Tribley’s letter went on to describe the damaging effect the bill could have on Sheridan College if Gillette College were to establish its own independent district.

“Without this assurance, a bill to create a new college district would irreparably harm one of the mainstays of education in Wyoming, Sheridan College,” Tribley wrote.

Tribley requested a response from legislators by noon on Monday, adding that no response would be taken as a lack of support.

“I thought the demand that his request be answered by noon on Monday literally gave me four working hours to make a response to his request,” Wasserburger said. “Which at this time, the answer has been no. We are not going to make any decisions that he asked us to make other than to tell him that no, we will not do that.”

Wasserburger said he disagrees with Tribley about the alleged negative financial impact a split would have on Sheridan College. Still, whether Gillette College successfully secedes or not, he said the schools need to continue the cordial partnership they have held for decades.

“I think it confuses other legislators is what it does,” he said. “Obviously, it places the Sheridan delegation in a difficult position. Then it forces the Campbell County delegation into a difficult position.

“At the end of the day, we understand that the Gillette College application has nothing to do with a rivalry with Sheridan College or that we were unhappy with where we were at. What it says is that we have grown so much. … We are asking that we as a community are able to tax ourselves and have our own board of trustees elected by Campbell County.”