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Education

8 Districts Sue Oklahoma Tax Commission Over Vehicle Revenue Distribution Model

Jason Stephenson teaches a class at Deer Creek High School in Edmond. Deer Creek’s allocation of money from motor vehicle collections doubled between fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
Brent Fuchs
/
The Journal Record
Jason Stephenson teaches a class at Deer Creek High School in Edmond. Deer Creek’s allocation of money from motor vehicle collections doubled between fiscal years 2015 and 2016.";

Eight Oklahoma school districts are suing the state because of what they say is an unfair distribution model for Oklahoma's vehicle taxes.

Last year, the Legislature changed the recipe for how the $250 million in tax revenue is distributed, and according to the lawsuit, tax officials misinterpreted the law when it began handing out motor vehicle revenue based on schools’ average daily attendance. That led to massive changes for some districts, as The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

Deer Creek Public Schools in northern Oklahoma County had the biggest proportional increase, according to a data set that [plaintiff’s attorney Gary] Watts produced. Between fiscal years 2015 and 2016, Deer Creek doubled its motor vehicle allocation. Midwest City-Del City Superintendent Rick Cobb said he doesn’t feel animosity against the 10 metro-area districts that received an increase. His frustration is that he’s hit so hard because of a discrepancy. Mid-Del lost $1.3 million, or 20 percent of its motor vehicle allocation. “We had to make cuts to positions and programs beyond what we had to do because of the state budget,” Cobb said. “Our cuts had to be deeper than they would have been otherwise.”

The lawsuit doesn’t ask for the money back. Instead, the schools want the tax commission to reinstate traditional funding levels and hand out the money based on whether vehicle tax collections rise or fall. More than 270 districts received less money than the year before, according to Denwalt:

Among those is Lone Wolf, which got only 60 percent of its usual allocation. “The schools that were losing population got hammered,” said Superintendent James Sutherland. His school received about $29,000 less, according to the lawsuit. “It’s half a teacher salary or a little more,” he said. “It makes a difference for me.” Altus Superintendent Roger Hill said the way OTC calculated disbursements created winners and losers. On one side are schools that are growing. On the other are districts such as his. “We’ve eliminated 33 positions heading into the school year,” Hill said. “It’s going to impact significantly the quality of educational services we provide to our kids.”

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