Trust commissioners consider selling stocks

Monday, May 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ School Land Trust commissioners are considering selling millions of dollars in stocks to help cash-strapped schools.

``It wouldn't bother me to sell $200 or $300 million,'' said state Auditor and Inspector Clifton Scott, one of five land trust commissioners.

Commissioners have been given options on how to increase the trust fund's cash distributions by Holbeing Associates Inc., the financial consultant for the trust.

Among the options is selling $50 million in stocks and moving the money to fixed-income accounts to raise an additional $5 million dollars for the next fiscal year.

But commissioners also want to avoid limiting the potential for future earnings. Ernest Hellwege, secretary of the land office, said the investment staff is reluctant to reduce the percentage of funds invested in stocks.

``How much do you sacrifice the long-term growth for the short-term distributions?'' Hellwege said.

The trust fund was created at statehood to benefit public schools and universities. It has grown to nearly $1.06 billion dollars.

Schools receive income generated by the trust fund through land leases and earnings from investments of interest and dividends.

Constitutional restrictions prevent the fund's principal, or permanent funds, from being spent. Capital gains in the stock market are considered permanent funds and cannot be distributed to public schools.

Forty percent of the fund is invested in stocks.

Commissioners are looking for ways to increase trust fund distributions because schools are facing a severe budget shortfall and more financial troubles are expected in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

``I think this coming fiscal year is going to be pretty tough,'' said Gov. Frank Keating, another member of the land commission.

Hellwege said his staff has developed a proposal that will be presented when commissioners meet June 11.

The staff will propose transferring money from fixed-income accounts to similar accounts that earn higher interest, but are more risky, he said.

Another option being considered is to move $100 million into fixed-income accounts, generating $10 million for schools in the next fiscal year, but the option is not recommended by consultants.

Long-term growth would be ``severely impacted'' and future distributions to schools would stagnate if $100 million were moved, the consultants said.

Scott said it may be time to ``severely impact'' the fund to get more money to financially troubled school districts.

``It's their money, and they need it now,'' he said.