GILLETTE — The Gillette College Advisory Board would like to be more involved in conversations about any future cuts of the Northern Wyoming Community College District’s budget.
That was the message the board had for district President Walt Tribley at an advisory board meeting last week. It was the board’s first meeting since athletics programs at Gillette College and Sheridan College were cut.
The board and many in the community were frustrated by a lack of communication between the district and Campbell County leading up to the June 25 announcement that sports (except for rodeo) and the Energy City Voices would be cut to save money.
Over the next five days, Gillette residents put together a plan to fund sports at Gillette College for the 2020-2021 school year with private money while also working toward a longer-term solution.
At a July 2 meeting, the district board didn’t accept the proposal, partly because it only addressed Gillette College and didn’t include Sheridan College.
Talks already have started on the steps to take to break Gillette College away from the Northern Wyoming Community College District and create a new district in Campbell County.
Tribley cautioned those in Gillette about going that route.
“To ask the (Wyoming) Community College Commission, who doesn’t live in your area, to carve the ever-sinking pie another slice is a tall order,” he said during Thursday’s meeting.
The current model is imperfect, he said, but it can be improved. The best path forward is to move on from the past.
“We do have a partnership and I want that partnership to continue,” Tribley said. “Let’s put our eggs in that basket, acknowledge the angst and keep us moving forward.
“I think we should stay together.”
Board member Josh McGrath said that given what’s happened in the last two weeks, he doesn’t agree with Tribley’s statements.
“You and your trustees have called it a partnership. I don’t find it to be a partnership,” McGrath said. “Gillette College doesn’t have a voice. That’s what I struggle with.”
“I see why you and many others feel that way,” Tribley said.
Regardless of what happens at the state level, the district was preparing for a $3 million shortfall driven by a drop in enrollment, Tribley said.
The goal now should be to increase enrollment and “make sure everybody knows Gillette College is the best place they can go to get an education,” he said.
If the college district can get its enrollment back up, “then these horrible cuts we’ve made will be sufficient,” he said.
If it’s unsuccessful, more cuts will be coming.
Advisory board member Tracy Wasserburger said she agrees that the first round of cuts is just the start.
“That’s absolutely true. This is just the beginning. However, we want to be a part (of those discussions),” she said.
Robert Palmer, chairman of the advisory board, said now is the time for the district board and the advisory board to “have some frank and candid discussion.”
“Transparency is important. Communication is essential. What can we learn from what we just went through?” he asked. “Involve us in the process so that it can be a better process. It won’t make reductions any easier, but at least people feel they had an opportunity to be heard.”
Tribley said he laid out the plan for the cuts in executive session. Publicly, he told people to be prepared for cuts that would affect “people, programs and students,” but he kept the details private because personnel was involved, he said.
“When it deals with people, we generally do not discuss those things (in public),” he said. “Err on the side of protecting the people, giving the people who are losing their jobs that private conversation.”
Wasserburger said she understands the need for personnel decisions to be discussed during executive session. But the cuts were not just personnel, but entire programs, which affects housing, enrollment and many other areas of the district.
“If something like that is going to be discussed, why wouldn’t our advisory board be welcomed into that executive session?” asked board member Richard Cisneros.
Palmer was the only member of the advisory board at the executive session. Tribley said Palmer raised concerns and advocated for the importance of athletics to “the fabric of Gillette.”
Tribley said he would be open to include more members of the advisory board in those conversations in the future, adding that it’s very important to not have “any inappropriate leaks.”