The federal spending plan approved by Congress this week renews a program splitting lumber profits between the U.S. Forest Service and rural school districts within federal forestland, after the equal sharing agreement lapsed in 2014.
Nearly 100 schools in southern Missouri contain parts of the Mark Twain National Forest. Some pruned budgets and put off buying buses after drops in timber payments of more than $100,000 each of the past two fiscal years.
“It put a real squeeze on staff. It kept us from being able to replace some things and positions,” said Brad Crocker, superintendent of the Valley School District in Caledonia.
Valley schools’ annual checks dropped from $170,000 to $60,000 when the Secure Rural Schools Act expired and payments reverted back to a 1908 law that only gives school 25 percent of the timber profits. Schools can’t collect property taxes off the federal land.
Under the renewal of the 50-50 profit sharing, schools will receive 95 percent of the payments they would have received the past two fiscal years; those checks are due in 45 days.
“So that is very good news, and immediate,” said Eric Allen, superintendent of Alton schools, which has the largest swath of national forest in its boundaries.
Students attending Alton schools are spread over large areas on private land speckled throughout the national forest. That adds wear and tear to buses, Allen said.
His district also has a small budget of $6.5 million, so losing $130,000 each of the last two years was difficult to absorb.
Congress renewed the program for two more years, which Crocker said “puts us in a much better spot.”
More than 40 states contain national forestland and receive some money from the Forest Service for schools and other government services within them.
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