School pays price for public land
Published: Thursday, September 6th, 2012
Custer School District superintendent Scott Lepke is a man of mixed emotions.
Perhaps no entity in Custer County suffers more from the hundreds of thousands of acres of government land in the county than the school district. Although Lepke said he enjoys the benefits the public land offers in the county, he also witnesses, on a daily basis, the pitfalls of all the land.
Although, it’s not the land itself that is the problem, Lepke said.
“I enjoy those areas as much as everyone else,” he said. “I don't want to come off that I am not a supporter of those areas. There are many benefits to our local economy to the government land. It provides jobs and an influx of revenue to our local businesses.”
Instead of the land itself, it is the way the school district is reimbursed for that untaxable land, the delay in payment of that reimbursement, and what he sees as a less-than full strength effort by the state to fund education that creates the perfect storm of circumstances that continually forces the school district to seemingly perpetually cut programs. From 2001 to 2013, the Custer School District has cut approximately $2 million from its budget, with no relief in sight.
The Custer School District, like other school districts in areas that have large portions of government land, are dependent on the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act, along with Impact Aid, for a portion of its funding for its general fund.
Early in the 20th century, the federal government recognized that counties faced a loss of revenue due to federal ownership of large tracts of land. Congress shared revenue generated from federal forest lands with local governments in recognition of the fact that federal ownership of forestlands deprived counties of revenue they would have if the land were privately owned. Shared revenue also recognized that counties provide services that benefit the land. The act is designed to assist rural areas.
Most Impact Aid funds are considered general aid to the recipient school districts, and the districts may use the funds in whatever manner they choose.
The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 was amended and reauthorized recently for one more year, after a great deal of wrangling in Washington, D.C.
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