The Oklahoma State Board of Education is seeking the state auditor’s help in determining how much money hundreds of school districts were overpaid nearly a decade ago.
On Thursday, the board voted to request an audit from the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Office of districts that received more than their share of state aid for Fiscal Year 2014 because that is a matter of pending litigation that has been in the courts for six years.
State Board members Carlisha Williams Bradley and Jennifer Monies were absent from the meeting.
The issue in question is what to do about the discovery that local taxpayers where more than 150 affected school districts are located paid additional taxes for 22 years that went to other school districts rather than benefited their local school children.
Ponca City Public Schools then-superintendent, whose district was one of those underpaid from 1992 through 2014, discovered the state’s error, which led in 2014 to then-state Superintendent Janet Barresi’s publicly acknowledging the mistake.
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Shortly after taking office in January 2015, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister ordered $20 million in state aid withheld to correct the error beginning with fiscal year 2015.
At issue was certain local property tax revenue from commercial personal property and agricultural personal property.
A law passed in 1990 that was supposed to take effect in 1992 — but didn’t — called for schools to start retaining any property tax revenue collected for these two categories of personal property above the state’s minimum assessment ratio of 11 percent.
In 2016, leaders of nearly 50 school districts sued the state to recoup back pay but that legal challenge has changed venues and plaintiffs in the years since. Hofmeister, the State Department of Education, Oklahoma Tax Commission and State Treasurer are the named defendants in the case.
The current legal challenge has gone all the way to the Oklahoma State Supreme Court and includes just five school districts as plaintiffs — Ponca City, Enid, Oklahoma City, Mid-Del and Western Heights.
The Supreme Court said in 2020 that while the plaintiffs could not go all the way back over 22 years, the State Department of Education could also not now know there was an issue and not request an audit to determine what overpayments occurred.
Whether or not a viable claim exists for 2014 is still pending in Oklahoma County District Court.