Sep 022015

By Nolan Madden

Schools which are located within Navajo County’s rural and/or forested regions have been granted portions of a historic federal grant based on their neighborhood position.

Equitable distribution of the $915,595.85 academic fund was approved by the Board of Supervisors last month. During her presentation of the grant request, Navajo County School Superintendent Linda Morrow explained to the board that Secure Rural Schools funding is meant to benefit the schools and roads of the county in which national forests are situated.

“Secure Rural Schools Act funding is interesting funding. It was first paid in 1908 through President Theodore Roosevelt for tribes to protect schools and counties that were in areas where there were mostly forested lands,” she related.

Congress passed the Act to support districts that are unable to tax national forested lands that lay within their school district boundaries.

Morrow continued, “At that point in time they used the assets of the revenue that came in from timber sales to support those schools within the district’s counties that could not tax those tribal lands.

“In 2000 it became the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Act, and with that it was less based on revenue and more based on monies like PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds,” she said.

Morrow highlighted to the board that seven of the 11 Navajo County school districts are funded by Impact Aid, a financial assistance program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. The program benefits school districts across the United States containing within their boundaries parcels of land that are owned by the federal government or that have been removed from the local tax rolls by the federal government, including Indian lands.

Morrow’s grant request also incorporated the Snowflake, Heber Overgaard, Show Low and Blue Ridge unified school districts, which are not able to utilize funds through Impact Aid, but are also heavily forested districts. “I have looked at ways to distribute Secure Rural Schools fees in a way that is more equitable for the forested districts,” she said.

The board unanimously moved to approve funds distribution in the following amounts based on acreage:

*      Snowflake Unified School District, $145,981.60.

*      Heber/Overgaard Unified School District, $305,406.36.

*      Show Low Unified School District, $291,577.14.

*      Blue Ridge Unified School District, $121,630.76.

The Hope School at the juvenile detention center received a distribution of $50,000 from the fund, which Morrow explained was allotted because the school does not receive tax dollars.