The W.S. school: money questions generally answered
The majority on the Warm Springs Reservation seem to want their own K-8 school. In the May vote, those backing the idea outnumbered those against by a 3-to-1 margin. But, the tribes' referendums need one-third participation of the electorate to be valid, and they fell 374 votes short.
Thus, a second go-round, set for next Tuesday, July 10.
A key element of discussion before the first vote, and more intensely since, has revolved around money -- paying for the tribes' half of school construction: $10.7 million.
The tribes have endured some financial setbacks during the recession, as we all have. Tribal employees have to endure furloughs, something nontribal entities, from newspapers to state government, know all about.
Thus, a common question on the reservation, and an element of trepidation that is gathering steam, is: how are we going to pay for our half? That, plus the argument that the tribes should not have to pay for half of school building, whether it's on the reservation or not, has made the money issue issue No. 1.
The June 27 Spilyah Tymoo did a good job covering the impending vote and its issues. In it, Secretary-Treasurer Charles (Jody) Calica presented a few options that addressed the question, and should have given reservation residents some confidence that funding sources are there.
For starters, the answer to how the tribes will fund their $10.7 million share is NOT by rolling back per capita or their pension payouts to individuals. While other economic impacts may or may not impact the per capia, Calica said that such individual financial elements have never been an option for funding the new school.
Like any entity with good credit, the tribes can obtain bank loans for the project. They self-financed the construction of the $13.5 million Indian Head Casino. Now that it's been open for five months and has a track record of revenue, the tribes can likely move that debt into a bank loan and comfortably make payments, and free up that original $13 million-plus to, if nothing else, help secure a standard loan for the school construction.
Also, Calica noted that the tribes could very likely secure Department of Agriculture backing that would guarantee 90 percent of the standard bank loan -- meaning they could have banks lining up to partner in the project, with very little at risk.
The tribes have contributed substantially to the economic strength of both the Madras community and the 509-J school district. No doubt. But it isn't like the district is not contributing substantially to a new Warm Springs school -- it's contributing half the cost: $10.7 million large. I would argue that is indeed a strong partnership.
A point has been raised by tribal people that the district wouldn't ask Metolius to pay half of a new school there. It's a relevant point, but Metolius is not located in a sovereign nation all its own, with a unique culture and mindset outside of the more general population. A new Warm Springs school will be a district-run school, that's true, but rest assured it would be of, about and for the Warm Springs Nation.
Tribal membership should acknowledge that their leadership has taken a bold step in committing half the funding to make this K-8 school happen -- and give some credit to the 509-J officials, and district voters, for meeting the tribes half way.
Many reservation residents feel the school district historically has let them down, not served Native Americans adequately. Here's your chance to better take control of your education destiny, to change the dynamic of your education system, thus your future.
The current school is in absolute disrepair. Substantial improvements needed to keep it functional approach $2 million, which would have to be taken from other budgetary needs and essentially wasted on a building over a half-century old. It's in an unsafe area, and right next to a loud highway.
Warm Springs: Do you want to have your own modern, state-of-the-art school, a great chance to restart your education process, to take greater ownership of it? Now is your chance. Invest in your future. Get out and vote, and vote yes.