State officials deliver $37 million to Idaho public schools

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — State officials have presented Idaho's public schools with a ceremonial check for about $37 million.

The presentation on Tuesday on the second floor of the Capitol Rotunda followed a performance by the Capital High School choir and came before the Idaho Land Board's regular monthly meeting.

"That check we gave to public schools this morning was huge," said Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, one of five statewide elected officials on the board.

The check ranks among the largest of disbursements ever to Idaho's public schools.

"Any money to public schools we're pretty happy about," board member and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said.

The money comes from the board's management of investments and about 2.4 million acres remaining of the 3.6 million acres the state received from the federal government when it became a state in 1890. Besides land, the state has also reinvested money into an endowment fund that was worth $1.8 billion at the end of June.

The Idaho Department of Lands manages the endowment lands while an Endowment Fund Investment Board manages the endowment funds. Both entities are under the direction of the Land Board.

The board's meeting Tuesday had a light agenda but included a year-in-review presentation.

Some highlights for the state included the harvest of about 260 million board feet of timber worth $62 million from state lands during the fiscal year that ended in June. The state also auctioned 102 cottage sites at Priest lake and Payette lake for $45.8 million, with that money going into a land bank fund as part of a new strategy by the board to buy timberland and farmland. As part of that strategy, the state earlier this month also sold seven commercial properties for $17.3 million.

"The commercial sites, let's face it, there were some of those commercial buildings that we owned that were starting to become maintenance black holes," Otter said. "We think we can employ that money much better through the land bank and through acquisition of what we do best. And what we do best is forestry and public lands."

The board earlier this year approved buying 2,400 acres of forest in northern Idaho from a timber company, and state officials say more purchases are in the works.

For the first time this year, the state also produced a separate report for the Idaho Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, a five-member panel that oversees the state's nascent oil and gas industry.

New technologies have made oil and gas profitable in the state, and industry officials have sometimes expressed frustration as state officials have tried to find their way forward. The first commercial production started in 2013 with a small gas well in western Idaho, and as of November there are eight wells in production and more are planned.

State officials say that 97 percent of oil and gas produced in the state comes from privately owned mineral interests.

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