GILLETTE — The bill proposing an independent community college district in Campbell County centered around Gillette College is headed to the House after passing the Senate.
Last week, the Senate voted 20 to 10 in favor of the legislation proposing that Gillette College leaves the Northern Wyoming Community College District and become a district of its own.
If the bill is to pass through the state Legislature, Campbell County would hold a special election, where the public would vote on the potential new district and elect seven new district board trustees.
Last Tuesday, during the bill’s first reading on the Senate floor, an amendment was added further clarifying how the NWCCD and the potential new district would handle the transition.
If the new district is voted into existence by the public, it would have to undergo an accreditation process to complete the formation process. That process is projected to take three to six years.
But with the established infrastructure already in place, Gillette College may achieve accreditation on the shorter end of that spectrum.
While the new district completes the accreditation process, it will continue to be a part of NWCCD. The amendment laid out some ground rules for the college and the district to abide by in the event of a split.
Once the new district’s board of trustees is elected, the amendment states that the two boards are to come up with a joint plan to ensure a smooth transition for the students, employees and other applicable services from NWCCD to the Gillette College Community College District.
The Wyoming Community College Commission would then review the agreed upon plan and oversee that the transition protects the interests of students while being consistent to the goals of the commission’s strategic plan.
During the transition years, which would last through the new district’s accreditation process, NWCCD will continue to receive the state funding for both districts.
While the bill was in the Senate Education Committee before reaching the floor, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, asked for Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan, and the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, to add an amendment compromising some of the financial questions lingering between Gillette College and its current district.
“I think they’ve got the right referee in this amendment,” Scott said when the amendment was introduced last Tuesday. “I think they’ve got partners that are willing to work out the details as they come up and this is the art of good legislation. Compromise.”
The bill was met with some opposition and a lively discussion on the Senate floor before ultimately being passed. Questions remained over how the new district would impact the finances for the seven community college districts already in existence.
Those opposed to the bill referenced the tenuous financial situation in Wyoming and the uncertain future of the energy industry in Campbell County.
But some in favor of the bill foresee the new district easing the state’s budget, once it reaches accreditation. While if the new district ultimately passes a public vote, its board of trustees will be able to levy up to 4 tax mills, its proponents suggest it could be funded for somewhere in the ballpark of 2 mills.
If the district taxes less than 4 mills, it won't be eligible for state funding, leaving more state dollars for the others districts to divvy up.
“It will save the state of Wyoming general fund money and we desperately need to do that,” Scott said.
That impact would not be seen until the new district reaches accreditation and formally gains its own autonomy. Until then, it still needs to make it through the House, past the governor and clear a public vote.