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Gardiner School District finds temporary funding solution

By Jordan Moore, KTVM Reporter, jmoore@ktvm.com
Published On: Mar 19 2014 06:40:44 PM MDT
Updated On: Mar 19 2014 09:16:58 PM MDT
GARDINER, MT. -

NBC Montana followed up Wednesday with Gardiner School District. Just a few months ago the district learned it was losing half a million dollars a year in federal funding. It was money aimed at helping schools serve children of Yellowstone National Park employees who live on untaxed federal land. Right now there are 37 students who fall into this category attending Gardiner Schools.

The government claims these payments were supposed to end when the law changed in 1976, but the money didn't stop flowing. Now, not only will the federal government not be making payments, they are also asking for at least $7 million in over payments.

Two weeks ago we brought you information on how U.S. Senators Jon Tester and John Walsh introduced a bill to stop this. Wednesday morning we were back in Gardiner to check in with Superintendent J.T. Stroder who tells us they have a temporary plan.

"I received an agreement from the Wyoming Department of Education on Monday," said Stroder.

Stroder says he signed that agreement that will allow the Governor of Wyoming to dip into emergency funds. These funds are set to provide the Gardiner School District with the half-million dollars they need.

"They are going to step up and pay the bill that the Park Service has left," said Stroder.

He says they need the money by the end of the fiscal year or sooner.

"Really what this payment has done is bought us some time. It has bought us a year's time before we have to make the hard decisions that we were going to have to make right now," said Stroder.

We also met with Tamara Cunningham, the business manager for the school district.

"I have never seen such an upset in the finances," said Cunningham.

She says the money from the federal government helped make the difference in students extra curricular and education.

"A lot of the Park Service money we have used to enhance opportunities for our kids," said Cunningham.

Cunningham and Stroder say that worry is set aside for now, trying to make the rest of the school year as normal as possible for students.

"There is track and field for students, for the most part everything is back to normal. Until that money comes though there is some caution, although we are 99 percent sure it's coming," said Stroder.

We also asked about what will happen if the district cannot come up with another half-million in a year. Stroder explained that the Mammoth Community inside the park has petitioned Park County Commissioners in Wyoming to either create a new district, or extend Park County boundaries so students can be covered.

The absolute worst-case scenario would be having to slash half-million from the school districts budget every year.

On Wednesday night, Superintendent J.T. Stroder tells us he plans to fill in parents and community members on these latest developments. The school board meeting starts at 7 p.m.