Sequester takes deep bite out of Fond du Lac schoolThe K-12 Fond du Lac Ojibwe School is an early victim of the federal sequester, with a reduction in federal money forcing the school to increase class sizes and cut into programs that were improving test scores.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The K-12 Fond du Lac Ojibwe School is an early victim of the federal sequester, with a reduction in federal money forcing the school to increase class sizes and cut into programs that were improving test scores.
The Bureau of Indian Education has cut $410,000 from the school’s budget this year, said Karen Diver, chairwoman of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. That means layoffs and hour reductions and keeping vacant positions open at the 270-student school. The cuts represent 8 percent of the school’s budget.
Five full-time employees were laid off, including a special education teacher and special education psychologist, a school counselor, a media specialist and a science coach. The hours of three teachers — for math, arts and special education — were reduced to part-time. Two support staff positions went unfilled, along with that for a language teacher.
“Our school improvement initiatives will be impacted by the cuts the most,” said Mike Rabideaux, superintendent of the school. “We have built strong reading and math programs over the past three school years.”
The school was using the same strategies to make improvements in its science program, he said, but that area has now been hit. The school also has invested in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math programming. The number of classes it provided will have to be reduced, Rabideaux said.
The cuts are ironic, Principal Jennifer Johnson said, because the programs that are suffering are the very programs the Bureau of Indian Education, a department of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, wanted the school to bolster in recent years.
“We finally really started making gains,” she said. “The very means they gave us to hire coaches, they are making us cut. That is nowhere in our five-year plan.”
According to data from Rabideaux and the state Department of Education, the Ojibwe School saw improved attendance among all students, and gains were made on state testing in certain subgroups, such as math scores for special education students and math and reading for Title I students between 2011 and 2012. Federal Title I money is for schools with high percentages of low-income students.
Although the school didn’t make adequate yearly progress under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines in 2012, a few grades made gains in reading and nearly all made gains in math on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests.
The school also has invested in programs to improve behavior and attendance, and in achieving culturally based social studies standards.
Because of cuts, the school is in the process of juggling assignments, Johnson said, and class sizes haven’t all been determined.
Diver said the school cuts came more quickly than expected from the federal sequester, the across-the-board federal reductions imposed March 1 when Congress failed to reach agreement on spending.
Grants to the band from other federal agencies have continued, for now, as the agencies try to make sequester-forced cuts in other areas, such as travel, Diver said. Most agencies have kept the band informed of their situations.
“We didn’t hear that same kind of conversation around the Bureau of Indian Education,” she said.
Diver said next year’s budget doesn’t look good either, as the Bureau of Indian Education expects to cut a similar amount. Schools on Indian reservations sit on land that is exempt from property taxes, meaning they must rely more heavily on federal money. They also can’t hold referendums for operating levies.
Revenue from gambling acts as sort of a surrogate tax base for the reservation, and now there is worry about how the sequester will affect consumer confidence, Diver said.
Other Minnesota reservation schools are feeling the effects of swift cuts to education. The White Earth Reservation might cut its school year short. The Red Lake school district, where the high school was the site of a shooting that left seven people dead in 2005, has scaled back its security staff, reduced class offerings and cut support staff, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The White House estimates that cuts to Head Start will affect 700 children across the state. Diver said that could mean up to 25 children at the Fond du Lac Head Start.
Rabideaux said it is hard to understand why such an underserved population “must bear the outcome of the government’s failure to do their job.”
Ninety-two percent of the school’s students receive free or reduced-price lunch and 15 percent are considered homeless. It has a 2012 four-year graduation rate of 15 percent, down from 32 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2010.
“The sequester is a major violation of the trust relationship the federal government is supposed to have with American Indians,” he said, noting the federal government created the reservation school system.
“We hear much of being held accountable at all levels. We in tribal education hear on a consistent basis that we are failing our children by not providing them with a solid education,” Rabideaux said. “This is ridiculous. There is no logic in politics.”