Meeker residents upset over campus closure

Bill Rucker is riled.

A longtime supporter of Colorado Northwestern Community College, Rucker is upset that Meeker is losing its satellite campus and he intends to do something about it.

Rucker took his concerns to the Meeker Business in Action group Tuesday morning to garner support and look for options to keep CNCC a vital presence in Meeker.

"I came here because I am upset and think it is time for the citizens of Meeker to pull together to see what we can do to guarantee a visible college presence in Meeker," he said.

Rucker addressed around 20 concerned business members and community leaders along with all three county commissioners, CNCC chief executive officer Dean Hollenbeck and CNCC Registrar Gene Bilodeau.

"I am not sure most citizens really understand the ramifications of closing the campus or the effect it will have on our community long term," Rucker said.

Rucker, owner of Rocky Mountain Bowstrings and the former director of Meeker Center, gave a brief history of CNCC's presence in Meeker and Rio Blanco County and expressed his concerns about the closing. He said it was important to get the dialogue started about options that the community might consider, including a possible tax levy.

"I am not saying I am in favor of a taxing district but I do think it should at least be looked at along with other options," he said. "Having the availability of college adds too much to our community that we cannot afford to allow to end."

Rucker is especially concerned with the dual enrollment program that lets high school jounors and seniors take classes that count both for high school and college core curriculum.

"It gives high school students a jump start on their future toward a college degree," he said.

Hollenbeck answered questions about the budget cuts during the last year and assured the audience that CNCC only closed it office as a way to streamline costs.

"We are not going to abandon the students in Meeker. We intend to continue our course offerings here, but the fact is we had to make some cuts," Hollenbeck said.

He assured the group that director Sandy Kloss would be doing the same job she had during the last year but from a different office.

"We just had to streamline expenses," he said.

He said CNCC was given five years after joining the system to get their business in line with state standards and that some of those mandates included staff and faculty cuts.

"We were heavy in administration and classified staff compared to other schools in the system," he said. "Unfortunately the state's budget crisis has taken a toll.

The college budget was cut 35 percent, or $1.4 million, from last year. Hollenbeck said the school is in a rebuilding stage.

"We gutted the inside and now we start the rebuilding," he said. "We do know we have to change so we can do business better."

Hollenbeck said Meeker only generated 23 FTE (full time equivalency) which did not pay the expenses of running the office. The Hayden center also was closed. He said overall the college is doing well and that student numbers are the highest they've ever been.

"We are doing more, it is costing less. That is what the state wants and the tax payers expect," Hollenbeck said. "So far programs have been spared but we cannot guarantee that will remain the case."

Hollenbeck understood the desire of Rio Blanco County to have the college president live in Rangely but he said that was up to the state system board to decide.

"I cannot guarantee anything. I do know they are concerned about our governance structure and may look at college managers," he said.

MBA member Wendy Kiaser said she had a vision of Sandy (Kloss) driving with a mobile fax machine at her right, a computer in the back seat and a cell phone in her left hand. She suggested the community work together to make something happen.

"She needs and the students need a central location," Kiaser said.

A cooperative agreement with the Meeker School District to create a spot that Kloss could utilize as a central location while in Meeker was suggested.

School Board Chair Mary Strang said the board is proactive about dual enrollment and would work with CNCC. She said the district funds dual enrollment at 100 percent.

"This is a time and money saver for these kids and their parents. Our board will certainly do whatever we can to keep CNCC as an option for the students," Strang said. "We will look into ways we might be able to help."

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