School districts sue tax commission

By Ryan Lewis -

After months of speculation about what was going to happen concerning Altus and other school districts’ desire to file a lawsuit against the Oklahoma Tax Commission or OTC, it has become a reality.

On June 15, Riggs Abney lawyer Bob Nance filed an action for declaratory judgment against the OTC on behalf of Sand Springs Public Schools, Mid-Del Public Schools, Ponca City Public Schools, Muskogee Public Schools, Altus Public Schools, Quapaw Public Schools, Lone Wolf Public Schools and Canton Public Schools in Oklahoma County District Court.

The lawsuit claims that more than $14 million of statewide motor vehicle collections have been wrongly shifted among Oklahoma’s 419 independent school districts since the commission’s application of House Bill 2244 on July 1, 2015.

“Each district shall receive the same amount of funds as such district received from the taxes and fees provided in this title in the corresponding month of the preceding year,” the bill directs.

The lawsuit claims the OTC has skipped two of the three necessary steps in the law. This illegality has allegedly deprived plaintiff districts of funds to which they are entitled and distorts apportionments they will receive in the future. While no damages are being sought from the OTC nor are the districts expecting a redistribution of funds already distributed, the districts do want the OTC to follow their interpretation of the law and correct its method of apportioning this revenue in the future.

In Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Roger Hill and board member Dr. John Thomas both spoke at length about the frustration of having a growing revenue source for the district capped at 36.2 percent.

According to local officials, through no fault of the district, Altus was one of the top ten dollar losers to the tune of $252,000. The cut has forced the district’s hand in implementing changes that are not in the best interest for the students, but it is something that is completely out of the district’s hands, board members claim.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit hopes to correct what has happened and ensure it does not happen again in the future.

“It’s slightly complicated and involves grade seven math, but simply stated, the tax commission’s error has been to ignore the Legislature’s intent that districts receive very close to what they are charged in the state aid formula, i.e. the same amount as the year before, and instead, has used the method of distributing the monthly over collection amounts to distribute all collections in under collection months,” said plaintiffs’ representative Gary Watts.

“This method, which should have applied to less than $2 million in apportionments this year, instead was applied to over $160 million to the great benefit of districts with large growth since 1995 and to the great detriment of others,” Watts said. “Unfortunately these one-time losses will be compounded in the future with an additional $7 million being wrongly distributed unless the tax commission is ordered to correct its application of the law.”

By Ryan Lewis

Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.

Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.

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