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BIA issues new school replacement priority listing for Congress

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WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - A Navajo grant school built in 1967 and destroyed by rain this past summer made it to the top of a priority list developed by the BIA for Congress for school replacement construction needs.

Dilcon Community School, which started six weeks late this school year because students didn't have classrooms to meet in, will join eight other Navajo and Hopi schools that also made the ranking. In all, the BIA identified 14 schools from their 185 schools and dormitories across Indian country that need replacement.

The list was developed based on "critical health and safety concerns," said BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling, noting that a pre-existing priority list developed in previous years is now down to five BIA schools. The five schools on the pre-existing list are further along in the process, she said. "We are seeking funds for these five in the upcoming 2005 budget," she said. "The amount being requested is $68.5 million for the five." But funding for the schools now just identified and ranked will be sought in future budgets.

The five remaining schools on the previous priority list for which the BIA is requesting $68.5 million in funding are:

1.Breadsprings Day School, Gallup, N.M. (Navajo)

2.Ojo Encino Day School, Cuba, N.M. (Navajo)

3.Chemawa Indian School, Salem, Ore.

4.Beclabito Day School, Shiprock, N.M. (Navajo)

5.Leupp School, Winslow, Ariz. (Navajo)

"The BIA uses the priority list to determine the order in which Congressional appropriations are requested to replace aging BIA-funded schools and dormitories," Darling said.

Navajo may appear to dominate both lists, but that is only because most of the BIA schools are on Navajo, said Darling. "The BIA is responsible for 185 dorms and secondary schools across the country that located on or near 63 reservations in 23 states," she said. "About 70 of these schools are on Navajo alone." Four of the five schools on the first list are Navajo schools as are eight of the 14 on the new list.

On Dec. 10, Dilcon Community School and Navajo Nation Council delegate Jerry Freddie brought Rep. Rick Renzi R-Ariz. to Dilcon to get a first-hand look at their school which began six weeks late this year because students had nowhere to meet, said school board president Patricia Nezzie.

"At the last minute we had to put up modular buildings because the BIA said our buildings were unsafe," Nezzie said. "And because of our school situation, most of our students left and went to other schools. Some are 45 miles away. The enrollment dropped by almost 50 percent from just two years ago. We are in more need of new school than anybody else. We have the land."

In late August, BIA facility officials restricted access, first to certain sections of the school then later the entire school, after mold contamination and exposed asbestos were found after a heavy storm.

"[This] resulted in water damages to the buildings," wrote a Navajo regional BIA director. When the rains ended, BIA officials reported there were four buildings damaged, including classrooms, the library and the dormitory.

With school initially planned to start just weeks away, school officials did their best to meet the start of the new school, but fell short. The BIA helped the school get 14 temporary modular classroom buildings and picked up the $463,000 cost, said Nezzie. "The students are now in the classrooms. And just recently, we had to close one dormitory because we have no students and we had to layoff some staff members. We are now raising funds to have graduation this year."

When notified about the school's dire situation at the Dec. 10 meeting, Renzi told local officials that the BIA could declare the school unusable. And once declared, the BIA has $340 million set aside for emergency school replacements that could be accessed.

"If we can show that new school construction would be better to replace then repair. I would take it as a personal project - to fight for you," Renzi said. "Lets begin to put the facts together to prepare a case. I am prepared to take this to the White House and to the other delegates."

Nezzie said school officials were elated when they heard their school was number one on the priority list.

In just four years President Bush has dedicated a total of $1.1 billion for replacement, construction and repair of BIA-funded schools, Darling said.

The 14 schools on the new Feb. 25 list that will replace five remaining schools, in order of priority are as follows:

1. Dilcon Community School, Winslow, Ariz. (Navajo)

2. Porcupine Day School, Porcupine, S.D.

3. Crownpoint/T'iists'oozi'bi'olta Community School, Crownpoint, N.M. (Navajo)

4. Muckleshoot Tribal School, Auburn, Wash.

5. Dennehotso Boarding School, Dennehotso, Ariz. (Navajo)

6. Circle of Life Survival School, White Earth, Minn.

7. Keams Canyon Elementary School, Keams Canyon, Ariz. (Hopi)

8. Rough Rock Community School, Chinle, Ariz. (Navajo)

9. Crow Creek Elementary/Middle/High School, Stephan, S.D.

10. Kaibeto Boarding School, Kaibeto, Ariz. (Navajo)

11. Blackfeet Dormitory, Browning, Mont.

12. Beatrice Rafferty School, Perry, Maine

13. Little Singer Community School, Winslow, Ariz. (Navajo)

14. Cove Day School, Red Valley, Ariz. (Navajo)