A preliminary opinion issued by the Utah Attorney General's Office says the 1986 agreement between the Uintah and Duchesne County school districts selling Union High School to the Duchesne district is null and void because the Ute Tribe and federal government have a financial stake in the school and were not included in any decisions.
The Attorney General's Office got involved at the request of Uintah district officials, who wrote to request an opinion "on the legality of the ninth-graders attending Union" under the terms of the 10-year-old contract.Duchesne maintained Uintah should pay more money for its ninth-graders because at the time the agreement was signed the school included only grades 10 through 12. The Uintah School Board disagreed, and although it did send additional funding along with its ninth-grade students this year, it had refused to send any more money next year. The Duchesne district had gone so far as to say it wouldn't accept Uintah County ninth-graders if additional money wasn't sent.
But neither school district apparently suspected it was violating strict rules relating to the federal allocation made on behalf of the Ute Tribe 48 years ago that helped fund construction of the school. The tribe itself was also unaware that due to the congressional funding it must be included in discussions over operations of the school.
In 1948 the federal government contributed $250,000 toward the construction of Union High School.
In return, the two school districts agreed to maintain Union - which straddles the Duchesne-Uintah county line - and make it "available to all Indian children of the districts on the same terms of other children." The federal appropriation was matched by contributions of $125,000 from each school district.
But when the districts decided between themselves to turn "the general operation, administration, maintenance and control" of the school over to Duchesne, the contract did not mention any ownership rights to which the federal government and Ute Tribe were entitled.
The opinion says the federal statute that appropriated funding to assist in the construction of the school required that the Uintah and Duchesne School Districts jointly maintain the school. And according to the opinion, the statute also did not allow for the sale of the school that occurred in 1986 when the Uintah District paid $2 million to the Duchesne District.
"The two districts cannot contract away the tribe's rights, at least not without the approval of the Commissioner of indian affairs, or it is null and void," the opinion said.
And although the tribe is to be included in certain decisions made concerning the school, they are not to be included when it comes to funding. Williams pointed to a federal statute which prohibits any party from making an agreement with "any tribe of Indians . . . for payment or delivery of any money," unless the contract is executed and approved by the Secretary of Interior and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.
A meeting will be scheduled between representatives from the two school districts and the Ute Tribe to sort out the situation, said John Aland, Duchesne School District superintendent.