Friday, February 25, 2005


Fellow Nebraska blogger Rolly Church (http://thechurchreport.livejournal.com) has started a donation campaign to try to save a historic one-room schoolhouse in the Panhandle that may have to close because of an accounting error.

Church said the teacher, her aide, and a janitor/secretary/van driver have been working for free for months to keep the lights on and books open for the eight students who come to Hill Public School near Bayard, Neb.

The classic, one-room school is almost a century old. It is located about 30 miles from Scottsbluff in western Morrill County. You can see Chimney Rock from there.

In a predicament that made ABC News, USA Today and newspapers coast to coast, the little school got in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service to the tune of $16,600. After the intervention of a Chicago-based tax relief organization, the IRS agreed to drop the $7,000 in fines and penalties it first imposed, as long as the $9,600 in withholding taxes it says are still owed are paid over the next two years.

The arrangement isn’t finalized, but casts a little ray of hope. The school is looking to sell its $2,000 van, for example. But overall, the financial whammy is almost overwhelming for the one-room school, which also recently lost $20,000 in state aid, Church reports.

In a phone interview, Rhonda Maxcy, school-board secretary, said that school employees had nothing to do with the error and were shocked when it was revealed. She said the school’s accountant erroneously used Line 11 on the tax form when the income amount was $3.25 over the maximum, and in consequence, Line 13 was wrong, too. The same error persisted for two years before the IRS caught it.

It doesn’t exactly rank right up there with the Enron and WorldCom scandals, but the IRS says the money is owed, and so the money is owed.

Ms. Maxcy said she has written Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey and Ted Turner asking for financial help, and plans next to ask President Bush. Local businesses have been supportive, but the farm economy and the drought make collecting donations very tough, she said.

She feels extra passionate about the school because she has a daughter there, and can testify about the benefits of individual attention and academic encouragement in a country school.

“This is a piece of American pie that’s older than baseball,” Ms. Maxcy said. “We’re asking people to send whatever they can to keep our school alive so we can go on turning out well-educated, productive citizens.”

If you would like to help Hill Public School, send your tax deductible contribution to any US Bank. Make checks payable to Hill Public School, District 44. Or telephone or email Rhonda Maxcy, (308) 586-2278 or jlorrkmax@bbc.net

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