By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – The Board of Canadian County Commissioners will consider signing a letter of support to help one of its school districts impacted by a “loss” of funding due to federal land.
It’s an issue that all three elected commissioners, Dave Anderson, Tracey Rider and Tom Manske, have discussed recently with El Reno Public Schools’ leaders.
“We lose at least a quarter, and maybe a third, of our school district to federal land,” ERPS Superintendent Matt Goucher said. “And we get absolutely nothing (financially) for it because of a date.”
If the federal government owned the land before 1938, public school districts do not qualify to receive any “impact aid” for that land.
El Reno’s schools’ chief called that an “arbitrary date” and he’s been unable to determine its significance.
In effect, El Reno Schools is missing out on a significant amount of federal funding because of federal-owned properties around El Reno like the Federal Correctional Institution, Historic Fort Reno and U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Center.
“If you added another $33 million to $25 million because of the land we’ve ‘lost’, it’s going to add to our general fund, building fund and sinking fund another $1.5 million to $2.5 million that our kids don’t get – and have never gotten,” Goucher said.
“We just believe our kids are worth as much as anybody.”
The El Reno school district’s assessed property valuation is about $100 million.
Some $5 million annually from ad valorem taxes goes to the district’s building fund, general fund and sinking fund.
Because of ERPS’ modest assessed valuation, the district is limited on the size of school bond issues to construct new facilities and add classrooms.
“If we did a bond and we carried it out 12 years, we could bond for about $45 million,” Goucher pointed out. “Well, that’s not going to build a tremendous amount.
“If this other (federal) land was in our valuation, that would bring our bonding capacity up another $15-$20 million and we could build more … so that our children (and) our community have nice schools, nice things in the future.”
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin and Third District Congressman Frank Lucas have expressed interest in helping school districts in Oklahoma and nationally impacted by this federal land problem.
“We have some movement,” Goucher told county commissioners. “We feel like we have the ‘iron hot’ with our senators and congressman.”
ERPS Board President Dr. Dorrie Parrott and Board Member Curtis Blanc joined Superintendent Goucher on April 17 to formally request the letter of support from Canadian County’s elected officials.
“We would just really appreciate your support on this,” said Parrott, who serves as a Region 10 trustee on the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“This is something that would help this whole county. We feel like our kids are worth just as much as those kids that live in other federally impacted areas. They deserve what’s owed to them.”
Blanc told Canadian County’s commissioners that this “has the opportunity to make a huge impact on our schools” in El Reno.
Commissioner Anderson, the board chairman, said El Reno’s school boundaries are unique because of the smaller K-8 districts “imbedded” in its area.
“There’s some significant valuation in those dependent districts,” Anderson pointed out. “Banner’s assessed valuation is almost $80 million. They’re almost as much as El Reno, yet they only take students through the eighth grade.”
El Reno has about 3,000 students enrolled in grades pre-K-12. In comparison, Banner has just above 300 students.
“El Reno’s municipal boundary is fairly large,” Chairman Anderson said. “The school district doesn’t take in everything that’s in El Reno.
The opposite is true in Mustang, whose school district covers a much larger area than the municipality.
“We don’t begrudge any school district,” Goucher emphasized. “We just want the 25% to 33% (of property) that we’re not getting paid on. We just believe we deserve something for that land.”
Chairman Anderson and Commissioners Rider and Manske agreed. The board is due to approve the letter of support at an upcoming meeting.