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Chairmen’s Association Sues Over Education Reorganization Plans

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Tribes in North and South Dakota have filed a lawsuit against the BIA and the Office of Indian Education Programs in an attempt to stop planned education reorganization.

The plan developed by the OIEP would remove six line officers from reservations in both states and replace them with three higher management officers to be located in Rapid City and Pierre, both in South Dakota, and Minot, N.D. Each location is hundreds of miles from any of the schools served by the BIA.

The tribes that make up the Plains region argue that the realignment will make it difficult to conduct education business from a distance.

The BIA has also not given clear evidence to tribal leaders about the funding, especially concerning the source of the funding.

The restructuring also includes the hiring of senior executive service management position at a cost of $100,000 per person, according to tribal officials.

“This restructuring plan comes at a time when BIA schools and tribal schools are experiencing severe budget constraints and lack the funds to provide basic services for children,” said Harold Frazier, chairman of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association and chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

“This plan will clearly cost more and result in fewer services to our children,” he said in a prepared statement.

The loss of line officers will occur only in the Plains region, which includes nearly 50 percent of high school students in all BIA operated schools. The Plains also has the second-highest concentration of students in the BIA system. Only the Navajo Nation has the largest total number of students.

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Schools in the region have reduced staff in order to meet financial responsibilities because of either budget cuts or no increase in funding levels. Money from programs, such as cultural or arts, have to be used to accommodate the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to tribal education officials.

GPTCA members have opposed this reorganization from its inception, yet claim they have had no satisfaction from the BIA, and very limited consultation on the proposal.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, seeks a restraining order, injunction and writ of mandamus that would require consultation before the reorganization with all tribal governments of the region and to halt the restructuring until all laws, regulations and policies governing Indian education have been complied with.

“When many of our schools are not making adequate yearly progress, why would you decrease the staff on the ground to provide technical assistance?” said Robert Cournoyer, chairman of the Yankton Sioux Tribe.

Cournoyer said that moving the line officers away from the schools would be tantamount to moving the superintendent of any other school system a distance away from the schools.

Three schools on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation requested additional funding to operate the transportation systems. They were denied the funding by BIA and the OIEP, according to Frazier. The three schools cut staff.

“Our requests were denied and yet we can spend millions on new administrative positions,” Frazier said.

BIA spokesman Nedra Darling said the bureau has received the complaint, but there was no comment from the BIA or the OIEP before press time.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Yankton Sioux Tribe; Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe; Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians; Lower Brule Sioux Tribe; Marty Indian School on the Yankton Reservation; Loneman District School; Porcupine School; and Wounded Knee School District, all on the Pine Ridge Reservation