Over 70 people packed into the Campbell County Commissioners special meeting Monday morning to advocate for continued funding of Gillette College’s (GC) athletic programs.
The discussion follows the Northern Wyoming Community College District’s (NWCCD) announcement Thursday that they had decided to cut athletic program funding at the Gillette College and Sheridan Colleges due to funding shortfalls.
After NWCCD made a $2.8 million cut that depleted the women and men’s soccer and basketball teams, as well as the Sheridan College women’s volleyball team, Commissioner Rusty Bell explained to the crowded room various options the college might have for restoring its athletic programs.
The meeting was packed with current and past GC athletes, coaches, coaches’ assistants, teachers, trainers, public officials and community supporters, all of whom took turns telling personal stories of the impact the sports teams and coaches have had on their lives.
Bell started off by expressing his understanding, saying that he knew the Board of Commissioners intend to work with the community to deliver the most beneficial solution.
Before taking public comment, Bell read a letter he wrote to NWCCD’s Board of Trustees, explaining the Campbell County Commissioners’ stance on this issue.
According to the letter, neither the county nor the City of Gillette were notified that NWCCD would be cutting the athletic funds, so both entities included their own version of these costs in their recently approved 2020-2021 fiscal budgets.
“Making this decision without consultation from anyone in the community is both disappointing and concerning,” he said. “Campbell County has made significant financial investments in facilities on the campus. Given these investments, it was surprising that outreach would not have occurred to discuss options.”
In reaction to the district’s decision, the county held a special meeting to hear the community’s thoughts on gradually breaking ties with NWCCD and creating their own Campbell County College District.
Bell estimated that if GC remains under NWCCD’s jurisdiction this year, the cost of seeing the Pronghorns play would be around $532,000. He further requested that NWCCD Board of Trustees feature GC in an upcoming meeting agenda to allow opportunity for discussion.
Regardless, Bell suggested that the county create its own district that would receive funding from the state. In order to meet requirements for State Community College funding, Campbell County residents would see a great increase in taxation.
“This doesn’t come at the hands of county and city,” Bell reiterated. “This has to be a community-wide effort and we’ll have to tax ourselves, more.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner DG Reardon advocated for a system in which the City and County fund the college without help from the state. This would be a more expensive tactic for local entities, he said, but it would feature a more direct form of tax revenue spending and would limit the intervention from outside entities.
“The state has reduced budgeting for community colleges, for years in a row,” he said. “So, for us to sit here and think that this funding is going to come back to us, well, it probably won’t.”
No definitive decisions were made at today’s meeting, but the NWCCD Board of Trustees has added Campbell County’s district issues to their meeting agenda on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in Sheridan’s Golden Dome.
Looking to add to the discussion, assistant coach of Gillette College Men’s Basketball Estevan Sandoval, and several others effected by this decision, will make the trip to Sheridan in a bus that was donated to the group by the college.
Though discussions and decisions await the community, Bell noted how nice it was to see everyone on the same page: Pro Gillette College.
“That was the most people that I’ve ever seen in the commissioners meeting room,” he reflected during an interview with County 17, “and they were all in favor of Gillette College.