Within the 2006 through 2010 tax years, the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization issued certified assessments of certain public property physically located within the boundaries of the Stroud school district. Ad valorem taxes associated with these properties were distributed by the Lincoln County Treasurer to the Cushing and Wellston districts, instead of to Stroud. The error was discovered and subsequently corrected by the Lincoln County Board of Tax Roll Corrections during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. There was no disagreement among the three school districts that they were not responsible for the errors made in the distribution of the ad valorem taxes. To recover the funds that should have been Stroud's, Stroud sued Cushing and Wellston school districts. Stroud filed its petition on April 22, 2013. The defendant school districts filed a motion for summary judgment in December of 2014. In the same month, the plaintiff responded with its own motion for summary judgment. Stroud received the taxes from the property identified as within its district; Cushing received the taxes from the property identified as within its district; and Wellston received the taxes from the property identified as within its district. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found Stroud received the same amount for its general funds that it would have received had the ad valorem taxes been properly allocated. Nevertheless, it demanded additional funds from Cushing and Wellston that it would have received if the real property had been correctly identified. The Court determined if that amount was paid to Stroud, then Cushing and Wellston would have deficits in those districts that they would not have if the real property had been correctly identified. Stroud did not believe the other two school districts are entitled to a setoff if they paid Stroud the misallocated ad valorem taxes. The Court found all three school districts were victims of this error, but no district failed to receive the funds needed for their respective districts. The Court reversed judgments against the Cushing and Wellston districts and that in favor of Stroud: "county and state officials will make mistakes in the taxing of property and the distribution of taxes." View "Independent Sch. Dist. No. 54 v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 67" on Justia Law
On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law
Several Oklahoma taxpayers filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a permanent injunction against Defendants, Joy Hofmeister, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Oklahoma State Department of Education; and the Oklahoma State Board of Education, (the "State") to enjoin the payment of tuition to private sectarian schools alleging the "Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act" (or "Scholarship Program") violated several articles of the Oklahoma Constitution. Both parties filed for summary judgment. The trial court granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions, finding the Act was constitutional on all challenged grounds except for one. The trial court entered a narrow Order ruling the Act violated the Oklahoma Constitution, Article II, Section 5, only to the extent it authorized public funds to pay the cost for students to attend private sectarian schools. This provision of the Constitution has been referred to as the "no aid" clause, prohibiting public money from being used for the benefit or support of religion. An injunction was issued to prevent payment to private religious schools, with no impact on the payment to private non-sectarian schools. The State appealed, arguing: (1) the payment to a sectarian school was permitted because it was for a valid public purpose and in exchange for consideration; and (2) the district court's construction of the Act created a religiosity distinction violating the U.S. Constitution's freedom of religion clause. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision in part and found the Act did not violate the "no aid" clause. The Court did not reach defendants' second issue, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Oliver v. Hofmeister" on Justia Law
Initiative Petition No. 403 sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C. The proposed article would create the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, designed to provide for the improvement of public education in Oklahoma through an additional one-cent sales and use tax. Funds generated by the one-cent tax would be distributed to public school districts, higher education institutions, career and technology centers, and early childhood education providers for certain educational purposes outlined in the proposed article. Additionally, a percentage of the funds would be used to provide a $5,000.00 pay raise to all public school teachers. Opponents challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the one general subject rule of Art. 24, sec. 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Initiative Petition No. 403 did not violate the one general subject rule and was legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "IN RE INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 403 STATE QUESTION NO. 779" on Justia Law
If funds are available, the Educational Leadership Oklahoma Act (Act) provides for bonuses to eligible teachers who attain national certification. In the past, the State Board of Education provided the full amount of bonuses and any additional amounts necessary to cover the payroll withholding taxes on the bonuses. In 2010, the Board didnât pay the withholding taxes. Teachers filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Board should have paid the withholding taxes on their bonuses. The trial court found that because the School District was not liable for the bonus payments under the Act, the State Department of Education was, and payment of the bonuses was conditioned on the availability of funds to pay them from State. The court determined that the School District was required to use some of the allocated bonus money from the State to fund the Districtâs tax obligations. Furthermore, the court concluded that the Teachers sued the wrong party by suing the School District, so that it could not enter a judgment in their favor. Accordingly, district court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction. On appeal, the Supreme Court held that because the Teachers were State employees, and State was responsible for paying employer withholding taxes for the bonuses, the School District had to pay them. However, the Court found that the State did not have enough money to pay both the bonuses and the withholding taxâit only had enough to pay the bonuses. The Court affirmed the lower courtâs decision to dismiss the case.
Posted in: Education Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law, Oklahoma Supreme Court