March 13, 1997 in Nation/World

State Tries To Turn Suit On District Attorney General Blames Bonner County Schools

By The Spokesman-Review

Idaho lawmakers, unhappy about being sued for not properly funding education in Bonner County, say the school district is to blame for its problems, not the state.

The state is being sued by Sandpoint dentist and school trustee Willard Osmunson. But the state says Osmunson has it all wrong and they want to join him and sue the Bonner County School District. It’s a legal tactic to shift blame away from the state onto the district, said school district attorney Charles Dodson.

“They are trying to get out of funding education. It’s that simple,” he said. “I’m not the least bit surprised they are doing this.”

In January Osmunson filed a $17 million lawsuit against the state and district on behalf of his two daughters and the 6,100 students in the district. He claims the county cannot provide a proper education, maintain buildings or reduce class sizes because the state provides too little money.

The district has dilapidated buildings it can’t afford to repair, school attendance has dropped, residents won’t pass levies and the district may have a budget deficit by the end of the year.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore wants Osmunson’s suit thrown out. If a judge declines that request, Gilmore wants the Idaho Legislature named as a co-plaintiff in the suit, not a defendant. The issue is whether the school district is doing its job to provide a proper education, he said.

If Bonner County doesn’t have money to give students a thorough education, it should cut programs that are not federally mandated or impose new taxes on residents, Gilmore wrote in court documents.

“If a district is taxing less than others statewide, they should not ask for help from the state until they bring themselves up to the state average,” he said. “It’s like asking the rest of the state taxpayers to fund education when they (the county) won’t fund it themselves.”

Osmunson expected the school district to take a beating from lawmakers.

“The district is being used as a kicking block, the focus is on them right now and whether or not they are doing their job,” he said. “But I would not have filed this if I didn’t think the district would come out looking very, very good. Once this gets into the courts I think the heat will be on the Legislature.”

Three North Idaho lawmakers have recently asked the State Department of Education to investigate the Bonner County School District. Osmunson contends that is a conflict of interest.

“You can’t be impartial asking for an investigation of a district that is suing you.”

What angers Osmunson the most is the state using legal technicalities to avoid taking responsibility for education in Idaho. “They are side-stepping the issue and playing games, I really don’t understand it. This is a very serious issue.”

, DataTimes

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