During a special meeting of the Northern Wyoming Community College District board of trustees Wednesday night, Campbell County residents presented a short-term, privately funded solution to keep …
During a special meeting of the Northern Wyoming Community College District board of trustees Wednesday night, Campbell County residents presented a short-term, privately funded solution to keep sports and the Energy City Voices going through the next school year, with hopes of coming up with a permanent solution in the meantime.
A few hundred supporters of Gillette College, including student-athletes, coaches, parents and legislators, made the 100-mile drive to Sheridan College to attend the meeting. But in the end, the board of trustees approved the district’s fiscal year 2021 budget without considering Gillette’s solution.
It means that this fall, Gillette College won’t have a basketball team or a soccer team.
Gillette and Campbell County officials and residents went to the meeting to make their voices heard, but they left the meeting feeling as though no one was listening.
“I think the whole thing was really a big dog and pony show,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said Thursday morning. “It was pretty apparent that they had their minds made up, and they just put on a show.”
“We had a solution that we could save this part of our school, and it helps the whole district,” said Mayor Louise Carter-King. “They had their minds made up. We wasted our time.”
On June 25, the district announced that all sports programs at both Gillette and Sheridan colleges, save for rodeo, would be cut.
District President Walt Tribley said Wednesday the current funding model for the athletics programs was not fiscally sustainable during these economic times. He said athletics could come back to the two schools at some point, but in a different form.
Dave Horning, president of the Gillette College Foundation board, told district trustees that the foundation’s board came up with a solution: It committed to provide the money necessary to save and continue the athletic programs and the Energy City Voices through fiscal year 2020-2021, he said.
The foundation, along with private donations, would raise $532,407 — enough to pay salaries and benefits for Gillette College coaches, restore the Gillette College rodeo coach to full-time status and pay program expenses as they’re incurred for one year.
“The question is not can we succeed with this proposal. The question is will you allow us to succeed by accepting this proposal?” Horning asked.
The answer to that question was a unanimous “no.” Bell asked the board to make a motion to accept the proposal. But after nearly three hours and comments from 36 people, the board did not even consider it.
Trustee Norleen Healy said she was “very moved” by the people who spoke Wednesday night.
“When hard, hard choices have to be made, I have to choose academics and education over all else,” she said. “We are a college, and that’s what we have to do.”
“It’s a tough decision right now, but I see no other options,” said trustee Gary Koltiska.
Some of the trustees had a problem with the proposal because it only addressed Gillette’s athletics and not Sheridan’s.
“I cannot support a solution that is only partial for a district, and a solution that is not sustainable,” said trustee Debra Wendtland.
Board chairman Walt Wragge asked Gillette residents to think bigger than just Campbell County.
“Our purpose here tonight is, what is best for all students in the district? As I listened, I heard many proposals coming from Gillette,” he said. “You spoke very well and I commend you for that. But it just does not speak well for the district.”
“What we need to do is find solutions for the entire district, and not just for one entity,” he added.
Bell told the district board Wednesday that Gillette is looking at all of its options “including exiting and creating our own district. We don’t have a choice. We don’t have a seat at your table.”
The process already has been started to get a petition from Wyoming Community College Commission to create a new district for Gillette.
At least one trustee acknowledged that Gillette College could potentially leave the longtime partnership.
“We know there may be a time when Gillette decides they need to leave the district,” Wendtland said. “I hope it’s not now, but if it is, it’s been a pleasure.”