During the April 13, 2016 Carbon School District Board of Education meeting, principals and some members of School Community Councils from around the district made presentations to the board about how they wanted to be spending money that comes from Utah School Trust Lands in the next school year.
While the presentations were straight forward and very clear, sometimes those that live in a school district have little idea of where that money comes from, and how useful it is for schools as extra funds to do a myriad of important things for students.
Trust lands in Utah are parcels of land managed by the Trust Lands Administration for the exclusive benefit of state institutions or beneficiaries, as designated by Congress. At the time of statehood (1896), Congress granted certain parcels of land to Utah from which revenue could be generated to support state institutions, including public schools, hospitals, teaching colleges, and universities. So while other state agencies are involved, consequently 96 percent of the money generated goes to public schools.
Because these lands are held in trust, they differ greatly from public lands, and are more like private lands. Only about six percent of the state’s acreage is set aside as trust lands to generate revenue for the beneficiaries.
“The money that comes from the Trust Lands Administration allows schools to have funds to do things that we are not able to pay for out of the regular school budget,” said the Superintendent of Carbon School District recently. “Generally we are able to take care of many school needs, but with the help of School Community Councils the schools determine themselves what they need that is extra.”
At statehood time trust land parcels were allocated by apportioning the state into townships, each six by six miles, and dividing each township logo with numbers into 36 square-mile sections. Utah was given sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 in each township for public schools, resulting in a checkerboard of land ownership. All other designated state institutions were granted fixed amounts of acreage selected by the state from the remaining public domain.
During the April board meeting everything from work materials to extra help in schools was proposed. The School Community Council (SCC) is responsible for the School Land Trust Program, so besides providing input on other issues in the district, that council has an important function in using the money appropriately. The council is comprised of the principal of the school, at least one school employee and at least four parents from within the school boundaries. There may be more members of the council, but that is the minimum required by state law. However the numbers of parents on the council must exceed the number of school employees by at least two.
Once established for the year school councils prepare a School Improvement Plan and choose academic needs and goals from that plan, so a focus is formed as to where the trust land money is spent.
During the May 11 Carbon Board meeting, those plans, that were reviewed and considered during the previous month, were approved. Now Robert Cox, the Special Programs Director for the district will submit those to the School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for their approval.
“Once approved the money will come to the schools,” said Cox. “The amount has increased considerably over the past decade and a half. It was shortly before that the state came up with the concept of the School Community Councils to determine how the money should be spent.”
Before that time the money went into a type of general fund that was divided up but not to specific schools themselves.
The amounts the schools in Carbon District should get next year amounts to over $317,000 if the funding holds the same. Individually each of the schools should receive:
Bruin Point Elementary $9295
Castle Heights Elementary $43,116
Creekview Elementary $42,058
Wellington Elementary $23,836
Sally Mauro Elementary $28,898
Helper Middle School $18,314
Mont Harmon Middle School $58,451
Castle Valley Center $5,062
Lighthouse High School $7,915
Carbon High School $77,950
In comparison the average state wide distributions for the 2015-2016 school year was $44,200 for elementary schools, $62,300 for the average junior high/middle school and $74,400 for the average high school.
The money is appropriated somewhat like the Weighted Pupil Unit (WPU) in that the amount of money a school gets is determined by the number of students it has. The average per-pupil distribution for the past school year was $73 dollars per student.
The money for the fund comes from the trusts management of lands from revenue generated by oil, gas, and mineral leases, rent, and royalties; real estate development and sales; and surface estate sales, leases, and easements. The money for the funding doesn’t come directly from the payments made, but from an endowment (called the Permanent School Fund) that has grown over the years from those revenues. According to SITLA, since 1994 the Trust Lands Administration has generated $1.4 billion in revenue to help grow the fund from $50 million to just over $2 billion.