District responds to critic’s questions
The Grand Coulee Dam School District board June 25 night approved a response Superintendent Dennis Carlson made to a number of questions submitted several weeks ago by Electric City resident Carl Russell.
Russell had opposed the location of the new K-12 school complex and had submitted about 300 names on a petition asking that the board select a different site than the one selected in Coulee Dam and on the reservation side of the river where Wright Elementary and Lake Roosevelt High School is located.
There was a delay in answering the questions that Russell submitted because he didn’t date the letter or sign it and the board had asked Carlson to delay responding until it could be certain that he indeed wrote it.
Russell submitted seven questions. The questions and response follows:
Since your letter was addressed to a public official and a publicly elected board, it constitutes a public record and, as such, both the letter and my response is available to anyone seeking them. Also, I would ask that should you choose to quote excerpts from this response letter that you quote either the entire letter or an entire paragraph as the responses to your questions may include explanations or clarifications that would be lost should you choose quote only portions of the paragraph.
1. What is the dollar amount paid to the School Dist. From Tribal members via property tax?
While it is true that many tribal members reside in houses that are located on Trust Lands and pay no property tax, many tribal members own property in their own name and pay the same rate of property taxes as other citizens that own property. To answer your question would require someone to compare a list of tribal members that reside within the school district boundaries in Okanogan County to a listing of all taxable property within the same area. Those properties that appear on each list would then be considered in developing an answer to your question by taking each parcel's current taxes and then summed across the identified properties to establish the amount of money paid to the district. Since state and federal law already determines who will pay property taxes, the burden in time and effort to answer your question is beyond the scope of what the district can determine. If you should, however, choose to undertake this project on your own, I would be happy to accept your numbers if you can assure me that you have followed the above process.
2. What is the dollar amount paid to the School Dist. from the BIA for M & O for Grand Coulee Dam Schools?
The school district receives Impact Aid dollars from the Department of Education that is deposited directly into the district's General Fund and used to support ALL district students in the same manner as our local levy. In addition, the district receives additional Special Education Impact Aid funds to support Native American Special Needs students thus relieving the district from having to fund these extra services for this population. Each of these funding sources are formula driven based upon the number of qualifying students living on Trust Lands. The dollar amount received last year and this year through May 31st are as follows:
Impact Aid-Basic Educ.
Impact Aid-Special Educ. $25,975.94 $20,161.38
Total $946,725.37 $910,211.32
Since the BIA has a different mission than the Department of Education, the BIA contributes no funding to our district's M & O.
3. Why are there 2 different standards for discipline in the Grand Coulee Dam School Dist? One for the Native Americans and one for the rest of the students. (Don't give me the answer there are not 2 different standards, I have lots of students and parents give examples of the 2 different standards.)
The discipline in each building within the district is based upon a progressive discipline approach that is outlined in each student handbook and is approved by the Board of Directors. Our discipline polices are behavior focused, not culturally focused. External reviews of the district's discipline occur regularly through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the US Office of Civil Rights (OCR) upon the receipt of a claim of discrimination. A recent review by the OCR found that our district disciplined Native American students at a disproportionally higher rate than other students but that the district was not out of compliance because the discipline was based on student violations of adopted behavior expectations. A recent annual review by the OSPI found the same results. While individual anecdotes might counteract these findings, external reviews using objective measures need to be relied upon when making claims about discrimination in our schools.
All referrals for weapons, drug possession, and assaults are made to city and county police departments. Legal proceedings are then the responsibility of the city or county prosecutors. Referrals from these departments to other agencies such as the Tribal Court system is out of the control of the school district.
4. If there is no M & O funds paid by the BIA Of [sic] tribal members, tell me why they have more say in the location of the new school than taxpayers?
The district Board of Directors went through a very thorough process to determine the location of the new school. All constituencies had many opportunities to provide input during the process which the Board considered in its deliberations. The Board has a responsibility to protect the interests of the taxpayers and found that constructing the new building on some of the proposed sites would be extremely expensive and counter to the fiscal responsibility adopted by the Board. While your question suggests the Board listened to only one group of district patrons, many taxpayers supported the selected location as being the most reasonable choice.
5. Why was the petition presented to the School Board with over 300 signatures and more petitions that were taken from counters in town asking the board to consider building a new school either in Grant or Douglas County completely dismissed by the board? (By the way that petition was gathered in 2 days) With the ones taken off the counters there would have been over 400 signatures.
Our form of government is one of representative democracy whereby voters elect their representatives to make the tough decisions-whether in Washington, D.C. or in local boards. The members of the Board took their responsibility to make the tough decision concerning the location of the school seriously and provided many opportunities for district patrons to provide input, publicly reported the findings of their research into the different location options, and performed their representative duty. Following the extensive public procedure, the members of the board found no compelling reason to spend several thousand taxpayer dollars holding a special election that would only further divide our community.
6. How many students living in the boundaries of the Grand Coulee Dam School Dist. going to school elsewhere? What is the theory of the School Board as to why so many students go elsewhere to School? We also hear from other parents that they would like their children to go somewhere else but can't get accepted or can't afford it.
For the current school year, there are 42 district students “choicing” out of the district. Eight of these students are attending on-line schools, 25 are attending either Almira or Almira-Coulee/Hartline Schools, and nine are attending Wilbur Schools. However, there are an almost equal number of students “choicing” into our school district from Nespelem and Keller. There are many reasons parents choose to enroll their children in neighboring school districts. Several choose to go to another district because child care is more convenient or closer to their work place, the opportunity for college scholarships is greater, smaller class sizes, perceptions of bullying, a better “fit” for their child's personality, our older school buildings, and personal dissatisfaction with the Grand Coulee Dam School District.
7. What is the electrical rate in Coulee Dam compared to Grant County pr. year costs?
I don't think a fair comparison could be made using yearly costs as the district is currently paying for electricity at two sites served by Grant County PUD and only one site served by the Town of Coulee Dam. The result could be an inflated comparison for the costs incurred by our buildings served by Grant County PUD. I reviewed the district's billings from both providers and determined that the per kilowatt/hour costs for the two providers are $.041/kwh (which includes all city taxes and demand charges) for Grant County PUD and $.0586/kwh (which has no city tax or demand charge) for the Town of Coulee Dam.
I hope my responses have answered your questions. Please feel free to contact me if you need any additional information.