Land Board spars over school payments

The State Land Board will wait until September to decide how much in endowment payments public schools will receive in 2014-15.

Land board members were expected to set the distributions Tuesday morning at the Statehouse, but balked at taking action following debate over payments and reserves.

Public schools are the largest of eight beneficiaries of endowment land and cottage revenues.

Board Manager of Investments Larry Johnson recommended distributing approximately $31 million to public schools, similar to payments over the past five years.

Johnson said the reserve fund benefiting schools hasn’t met its target. That rainy-day account should equal five years worth of endowment payments, Johnson said. As of now, the balance equals about 3.3 years worth of payments.

Tom Luna
Tom Luna

Johnson instead called for increasing payments to the other seven beneficiaries. Schools got a one-time $22 million boost in 2010, which drove down the same reserve balance Johnson now suggests increasing.

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, one of five statewide elected officials on the Land Board, sought about $36.9 million for public schools, about $5.6 million above the recommendation.

“What concerns me is while we are building our reserves, school districts are depleting theirs and many of them have no reserves left at all,” Luna said.

Although Luna’s proposed increase failed due to a lack of support, Land Board members unanimously agreed to study the financial implications for another month before making the final call.

Gov. Butch Otter, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, State Controller Brandon Woolf, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Luna sit on the Land Board and preside over endowment lands.