May 5, 2015

Mammoth students included in Powell school district, state pays $400K

For the first time in its 107-year existence, the Powell school district sent a payment to Montana for the education of students living in Yellowstone National Park.

Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Kevin Mitchell shows how the district's boundaries will change in this 2014 photo. Photo by Tessa Schweigert
In April, Park County School District No. 1 paid $438,274.03 to Gardiner Public Schools in Montana to cover the education of nearly three dozen students who live in Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and attend public school in Gardiner, Montana.

The Powell district has already been reimbursed for the payment by the Wyoming Department of Education, said Mary Jo Lewis, coordinator of business services, on Thursday.

Wyoming was forced to cover the costs of Mammoth students’ education in Gardiner after the federal government abruptly announced last year that it could no longer foot the bill for the Yellowstone students, as it had for decades.

While Wyoming has a constitutional obligation to educate the state’s children, Mammoth and the northern part of Yellowstone were not included in a school district.

“They were in their own little world out there,” said Kevin Mitchell, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1.

Powell school officials were willing to take on the students and the Cody school board supported them.

“It certainly was a more lengthy process than I anticipated from day one, but the end result is the same — Wyoming kids get funded by Wyoming money,” said Mitchell, the Powell superintendent.

After months of deliberations, county officials reluctantly agreed last fall, and the State Board of Education concurred, to expand Park No. 1’s boundaries to include the northern part of Yellowstone and pave the way for the state to begin paying for the Mammoth students’ education.

The Gardiner and Powell school districts entered into a memorandum of understanding for the students’ education this spring.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mitchell said. “It certainly was a more lengthy process than I anticipated from day one, but the end result is the same — Wyoming kids get funded by Wyoming money.”

Gardiner Superintendent JT Stroder
Gardiner Public Schools Superintendent JT Stroder said he thought the arrangement with the Powell school district went well.

“I think it went great,” Stroder said Monday. “There were a lot of moving parts to get that lined out. And once we got all of the government tape out of the way, it seemed like it went really smoothly.”

About 35 Mammoth students, ranging from kindergarteners through high schoolers, attend school in Gardiner. Stroder said that Yellowstone employees often move in and out of the park, so the number of students from Mammoth fluctuates throughout the school year.

It initially appeared as though the Powell school district would have to wait until the next fiscal year to be reimbursed by the state for the Mammoth students’ education, and it would have taken up to 10 months to receive all the money, Lewis said. That’s how the process had worked historically for other Wyoming school districts who have students attending school outside the state.

“The issue for us was that our bill is a lot bigger than everyone else’s,” Mitchell said.

Powell school officials didn’t want to wait for those reimbursement payments in monthly installments over the course of a year, Mitchell said.

“What I had been saying all along is, we’re willing to work through this as long as it doesn’t cost Powell kids any money,” Mitchell said. “Taking a half-a-million dollars out of our reserves, and losing the income on that, is losing money for Powell kids. That was strongly heard by state officials.”

The Wyoming Legislature funded the Mammoth students’ education for the 2014-15 school year with a budget footnote during this year’s session, enabling Powell to be repaid much more quickly.


A footnote in this year's state budget will ensure Powell is quickly reimbursed for the cost of the Mammoth students' education, but it's only a temporary fix.

The footnote covered Powell’s costs, as well as every other Wyoming school district with students educated out of state, Mitchell said.

“It’s a temporary fix,” Mitchell said of the footnote.

He is talking with legislators about changing the state statute so that school districts receive direct payment for out-of-state education costs instead of waiting to be reimbursed, as happens now.

“We’re going to have to work on it in the interim to see how they’re going to fix that,” Mitchell said, adding that he plans to discuss it with the Joint Education Committee.

Mitchell described the relationship between Powell and Gardiner as “very positive.”

“There has not been one hiccup between us and Gardiner and Mammoth,” Mitchell said.

Stroder said the Gardiner district is grateful for Park County School District No. 1.

“We’re extremely appreciative to Powell for being willing to step up and do that,” he said. “We certainly couldn’t have done it without the district there.”

Mitchell worked with Gardiner officials to make sure the schools meet all the curriculum requirements for Wyoming’s Hathaway Scholarship Program.


“There has not been one hiccup between us and Gardiner and Mammoth,” said Mitchell, the Powell superintendent.

Mammoth students will qualify for the Hathaway scholarship if they decide to purse it.

“They are Wyoming kids,” Mitchell said. “In the law, it says if they’re residents of Wyoming being educated out of state, they have the right to the Hathaway.”

Though the Mammoth students are a part of the Powell school district, they aren’t using any of Powell’s facilities or programs.

With the communities of Powell, Clark, Garland, Ralston and the northern portion of Yellowstone National Park, the Powell school district now encompasses a geographical area of 3,197 square miles, Mitchell said Friday.

Previously, it was about 1,400 square miles, meaning the Yellowstone expansion more than doubled the size of the school district.

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