From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 17 - April 24, 2008
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State wants $92.5 million

by Jennie Oemig

In compliance with state statutes, the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) has determined that the amount Sublette County School District (SCSD) #1 owes in recapture funds for the past two years totals $92,534,303.50.

“It kind of takes your breath away to get a bill like that,” Superintendent Doris Woodbury said.

But the district has been protesting that determination, saying that the amount the state is asking for is significantly more than what it should be.

“The state says it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $92 million,” SCSD #1 business manager Vern McAdams said. “We’re saying it’s a little less than that.” According to McAdams’ figures, the district only owes $61,055,123, a difference of about $31.5 million.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said of the discrepancy. The amount in question is supposed to be paid to the state by June 15.

“Our response was that we disagree with that amount, pending the outcome of the case,” Woodbury said. “We’re protesting that amount. And we’re going to hold onto that money. Possession is nine-tenths of the law …”

At its meeting on April 9, the SCSD #1 Board of Trustees, the board was updated on the status of those funds by McAdams.

Having received a letter from the WDE highlighting the statute regarding the funds, McAdams said he was a little troubled. “It says that for last year and this year, the rebated recapture funds are not ours,” he told the board members, referencing the letter.

“That language does worry me greatly … We’re very, very deliberate about how we handle our money. And this flies in the face of good accounting.”

After receiving an initial letter from the WDE last fall stating that the district owed the state $92,533,435, McAdams said he immediately questioned the amount.

“They give you a month to say we dispute it,” he said, adding that he indeed refuted it. In addition to asking the state to refigure what SCSD #1 owed, McAdams also submitted a letter explaining his rationale for disagreeing, but the state did not comply. Instead, McAdams received the second letter, which stated that the district actually owed about $1,000 more than was originally specified.

“They’ve been trying to encourage us to set it aside,” McAdams said of the funds, explaining that the Campbell County and Shoshone districts were required to keep their funds on hand due to a request by the courts. “We were free and clear from that court order.”

Because the district was not included, it was not required to set any funds aside and McAdams said that could make it extremely difficult to pay the amount in full when it’s due.

“Forty percent of our tax revenue comes in May,” he said, adding that the dividend expected next month will be around $50 million. “But it still wouldn’t be enough to pay for both years.”

While the district is still waiting to find out whether or not the lawsuit against the state will be tried or certified to the Wyoming Supreme Court, McAdams said there is no way to tell what the outcome might be or what will become of the recapture funds.

“If they rule in our favor and we’ve paid this, I’m thinking we’ll get it back,” he said. “But we have no intention of paying that amount in June … And if we win, we’re gonna look pretty smart. If we lose and have to pay it, well, we’re not gonna look so smart.”

But Woodbury assures that the district is not simply assuming the court will rule in its favor.

“We’re being very, very careful with those monies in case the court does rule in favor of the state department of education,” she said. “It’s not something we take lightly. We’re just working with our attorneys and we’re hopeful that we work this all out.” For now, however, the district is sitting in limbo as the wheels of justice slowly turn, McAdams said.

“We’ll have to see what happens,” he said. “If we do go to court, this will be what it’s about. But we have some good arguments … It’d be nice to have some resolution.”

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