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School district sends strong comments to USBR

 


The Grand Coulee Dam School District issued a strong response to invitations for comments on a Bureau of Reclamation proposed modernization program.

The Bureau had advertised for draft environmental assessment comments on its 12-year plan to modernize and overhaul generators in both the left and right powerhouses.

The school district, long critical of a lack of financial support from the Bureau, stated in a letter dated May 12:

“Regarding impacts on the district, it is clear the Bureau still does not understand the complexity and unique situation here or it simply chooses to unacceptably ignore it,” wrote Superintendent Paul Turner.

“The district certainly supports the Bureau’s continued modernization and investments here,” Turner wrote. “However, the Bureau needs to assist the district by ensuring funds for the additional students enrolled within the district throughout the life of the project. This financial impact is expected to continue to occur over the 12-year life of this proposed modernization project.”

Turner stated that the school district is already faced with financial restraints, some of which occurred because of the accumulation of projects, such as the Third Powerhouse overhaul and the John W. Keys III Pump-Generating Plant modernization, as well as the new fire station.

“These cumulative impacts have and will continue to result in an undeniable increase in student enrollment within the district, leaving it financially burdened and unable to provide high-quality educational opportunities the district’s students need to ensure their future success,” Turner stated.

The district has already stated difficulties it faces as it begins the preparation of its budget for the 2017-18 school year.

The letter points out that the school’s student body is made up of 60 percent Native Americans, most from the Colville Indian Reservation, and that the Bureau has a “trust responsibility” to them that requires the Bureau to “take all actions reasonably necessary to protect these interests.”

Turner continued in the letter to say: “First, it is beyond dispute that but for the existence of the Grand Coulee Dam, there is very little reason for any of the local communities to exist in the area. Second, the district serves students from areas affected by Bureau projects, such as this one — specifically Lincoln, Ferry, Okanogan, Grant and Douglas counties, along with students from the Nespelem and Keller Elementary School Districts, both of which are within the Colville Indian Reservation. Third, and most important here, the district has historically faced and continues to face severe funding limitations. There are currently three basic funding sources: state, federal and local. … Typically, local are generated through a voter-approved property tax levy. However, because of the large amounts of federally owned lands here, the district cannot rely on funding from property taxes. Accordingly, the district must rely on federal funding sources and, contrary to a prior Bureau position, the district receives no Impact Aid funding for students connected to the federally owned Grand Coulee Dam project.”

Since Bureau projects began in 2010, Turner states, student count has increased steadily and the district has grown by 51 students.

Because of the upcoming modernization projects, Turner added, student growth is likely to continue.

“The district urges the Bureau to consider these real impacts and work with it in a meaningful manner to find and offer a solution,” the letter to the Bureau suggests.

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