From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 5 - January 31, 2008
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School district lawsuit against state begins

by Jennie Oemig

Sublette County School District (SCSD) #1 will go to court next week for a pre-trial hearing for the lawsuit it filed challenging the state in regard to Amendment B, legislation passed in November of 2006 that could potentially cost the school system millions of dollars in recapture funds. “There’s a significant amount of funding that’s at stake,” Superintendent Doris Woodbury said.

While the suit, which was first filed in 2006, is only in the pre-trial stages, the school district’s attorney, Doug Mason, said he anticipates it will be a while before all is said and done.

“It will eventually go to trial,” he said. “And it will probably be appealed to the [Wyoming] Supreme Court.”

The consequences of implementing Amendment B could considerably impact SCSD #1, Woodbury pointed out. Monies for the completion of current projects, including the middle school addition and the Pinedale Aquatic Center, are also in jeopardy, even though they were already approved in the budget.

“If we lost this argument, the funds that are used to finish construction projects … we could have to pay those dollars back to the state,” she said. “That is part of why we’re in court.”

And, as such, Woodbury said that other areas in the budget have been compromised in case that money does have to be reimbursed. “We have set aside those rebated recapture funds because we might have to repay those to the state,” she said.

Maintenance and operational repairs, technology upgrades and additional staff housing funds are just a few things that have been put on the backburner for the timebeing. “That’s all been put on hold until the trial is over,” Woodbury said.

Prior to the passage of the amendment, the over-the-cap money consisted of excess special property tax revenues. “Seventy-five percent of that excess went to the state,” Woodbury said. “And we were allowed to keep 25.”

While the particular amount varies from year to year and was expected to be less this time around, Woodbury said that it is still important that the district have those funds. “It would be less this year because of a little downturn in the natural gas industry,” she said. “But it’s still a substantial amount of money.”

Upon passage, Amendment B, which was heavily supported by the Equality State Policy Center, provided that funding would be made equitable for all of the children enrolled in Wyoming public schools, regardless of residency.

The Wyoming Constitution, which was altered to remove the phrase “of not more than three-quarters,” now reads: “The Legislation may also provide for the distribution among one (1) or more school districts of any revenue from the special school-district property tax in excess of a state average yield, which shall be calculated each year, per average daily membership.”

“It stated that the legislature may take these additional funds and distribute them to other districts across the state,” Woodbury said, adding that the state has yet to take action on implementing that policy. “The legislature, the first year, passed no legislation. Without new legislation, the old statute and the old way of doing things is still in place. That’s the gist of our suit.”

While things could go back to normal, the precarious state that the district is sitting in won’t allow that to happen.

“Until the legislature actually passes the law, we would continue with business as usual,” Woodbury said. “But we don’t know what we can and what we cannot count on. It really complicates the budgeting process.” Though there is still a lot of legalities to work through, Woodbury said she is hoping the district will come out on top. “We’re just hoping that [the trial] will have a positive outcome,” she said.

No matter what that outcome might be, Mason said the suit will have a dramatic impact on SCSD #1 and the students especially. “If the district wins, it means many millions of dollars more that can be spent on our kids,” he said. “If the state wins, they will take all of that away and Sublette County will be a poor school district.”

The pre-trial hearing for the lawsuit will be held on Feb. 5 in Lander.

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