School District #1 Powell WY

Feds’ legal review took 10 months

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk addresses the Park County District Boundary Board before it unanimously recommended that the state put a portion of the park inside the Powell school district. The state had to take action after the federal government announced in January that it had to stop paying for Yellowstone students’ education. ‘None of us want to be where we are today, but I think you all would agree that if were told that it’s against the law to do something, you wouldn’t do it, either,’ Wenk said.The board conditioned its recommendation on a couple more assurances from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office that the expansion won’t cause future problems for Park County School District No. 1.

If the State Board of Education agrees with the county’s recommendation, Wyoming will become responsible for educating about three dozen students living in Mammoth Hot Springs.

The students would continue to be schooled in Gardiner, Mont. Park County School District No. 1 would serve as little more than a go-between, passing state money on to the Gardiner district. Powell’s schools, test scores and education funding would be unaffected; parents and students would likely be unable to tell anything has changed.

The difference is that the state would take over the Yellowstone students’ schooling costs from the federal government. Yellowstone officials had paid the bills for some 60 years before abruptly announcing in January that they could no longer do so (see sidebar on Page 3).

State and local education officials had urged the county board to recommend the expansion of the district. The board deferred action at its first meeting in May because of concerns, and board members had some more questions on Thursday:

What if an education in Montana — which is currently less expensive than Wyoming’s — becomes overly pricey? What if a future Powell school board disagrees with Montana’s curriculum? What if it becomes necessary to actually establish a school in Mammoth? Will a Montana education qualify students for a Hathaway scholarship?

But Wyoming Assistant Attorney General Michael O’Donnell said that when problems arise, the school districts involved will work them out. He said it’s routine business for other Wyoming districts that either school children from out-of-state (47 such students in the 2012-2013 school year) or who pay to have their isolated students schooled out-of-state (74 students).

“I might suggest to this board that you’re at a point here where every possible contingency has been raised and addressed, ” O’Donnell said. “If you decline to expand these school districts, you strand 37 children in no man’s land (in Mammoth) without an education, and you have a vehicle to take care of them.”

Commissioner Joe Tilden took “great offense” to O’Donnell’s statements, believing Park County was getting a bad rap when the Department of Interior and Yellowstone National Park “walked away from what I believe is their obligation.”

“It just, it upsets me the federal government can wash their hands of this (and) say, ‘You guys take care of this. If you don’t, you are really bad people, ’” Tilden said.

“I’m sorry you take offense, but the position of the state of Wyoming is this board needs to expand these boundaries to take care of these kids, and if you don’t, that is the consequence, ” said O’Donnell, adding later, “Would I like to be able to say to you that there is some way to obtain this federal funding? Absolutely, but I don’t have a vehicle.”

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric said it’s likely the federal government will never again pay for the students’ education. He called it an “unfortunate reality, ” given how far the children are from the existing Powell school district.


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