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July 01, 2014 7:39 am

Not so fast: Funding for Yellowstone students back in question

Written by CJ Baker

The education of a few dozen students in Yellowstone National Park may again be in doubt.

A group of Park County officials have called a July 21 meeting to reconsider their earlier recommendation to place the northern part of Yellowstone inside the Powell school district.

“I thought it was all resolved,” said Park County Clerk Jerri Torczon upon hearing of the new meeting.

“Apparently we were mistaken,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall, chair of the county’s district boundary board.

The board — made up of the commissioners, assessor and treasurer — voted unanimously to recommend Yellowstone’s inclusion in the Powell district last month, but had a couple lingering questions.

At least one board member expects to vote “no” this time around because of those continuing concerns. At stake is the future education of the students in Mammoth Hot Springs.

For decades, the federal government paid for the children to be educated in Gardiner, Mont., but Yellowstone officials abruptly announced this year that they are legally barred from making the payments.

The Mammoth students and their families then turned to the state of Wyoming with a petition to be included in a state school district. Wyoming generally has an obligation to educate the children within its boundaries and Gov. Matt Mead, Attorney General Peter Michael and state and local education officials agreed the state should take on the students. The Yellowstone children would likely never set foot in a Wyoming school. Instead, the state would just take over the federal government’s payments to the Gardiner school district, with the Powell school district serving as a go-between for the money.

However, in order to get state

funding, the area needs to be within a Wyoming school district — and that takes a recommendation from the county’s district boundary board.

The board made a favorable recommendation on June 5, but made it contingent on two assurances from the attorney general’s office.

One was a legal opinion that the federal government is unable to interfere with Wyoming’s right to educate the children living in Yellowstone. The second was an agreement to indemnify the Powell school district from the millions of dollars of payments made to Montana schools over the past few decades.

The federal government is of the opinion that the payments should not have been made and, although the debt may ultimately be forgiven by an act of Congress, it will send someone in Montana a bill in the meantime, Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk has said.

Commissioners said last week that they’re dissatisfied with the responses from the attorney general’s office on those two issues.

“We kind of expected this,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston, adding, “We didn’t feel he (Michael O’Donnell with the attorney general’s office) could provide what he said he could provide and what we asked for.”

Commissioner Tim French said Monday that he expects several board members will vote against the recommendation, “just to make a statement.”

“At this point, unless I hear something different, I’m going to vote against it,” French said.

Commissioners remain unhappy with the way the federal government thrust the problem on them — making the announcement in the middle of the Gardiner, Mont., school year. They feel the federal government has been let off the hook.

An attorney for the Powell school district said in May that if the board does not agree to include the Yellowstone area in a local district, the parents in Mammoth would probably initiate litigation seeking to enforce Wyoming’s responsibility to educate the children and the state would concede they’re right.

“I don’t see what the benefit of forcing that issue is,” school board attorney Tracy Copenhaver had said, urging the board to recommend the Powell district’s expansion into Yellowstone.

“I hope that we don’t have to go through a litigious process to arrive at what we’re asking be done today,” Copenhaver said.

The meeting will begin at 1 p.m. Monday, July 21, in the alternate EOC room in the basement of the Park County Courthouse in Cody.

2 comments

  • Comment Link July 01, 2014 8:14 am posted by clipstein

    and the games go on..... sounds more and more what frannie-deaver went through.

  • Comment Link July 02, 2014 9:41 am posted by roger

    Put Mammoth in Montana with a minor state boundary adjustment. Solves a lot of problems such as this.

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