MASSENA - The state owes the Massena Central School District $800,000 and the Salmon River Central School District $3.4 million to cover tuition for Native American students who live on the reservation and attend those schools.
State Education Department officials, however, say they recognize the significance of the payments and are working to expedite them.
Massena Central School Business Manager Nickolas Brouillette said they received $879,000 out of $1.68 million thats owed to them, leaving a balance of approximately $800,000.
We received a payment this fiscal year. It was for half of the amount that was due to us. The money we received was for the 11-12 school year, he said.
Salmon River Central School Business Executive Natascha Jock said the state owes them payments dating back to the 2010-11 school year. They include $3.4 million for Native American tuition at Salmon River Central School, but $12.3 million overall when including the St. Regis Mohawk School. That doesnt include 2012-13 funding, she said.
The St. Regis Mohawk School is budgeted separately from Salmon River and is completely funded by the state and not in the taxpayers budget, Ms. Jock said.
Massena Central has just over 200 students who live on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation attending the district. Salmon River Central had 526 registered Native American students attending their school last year.
The two local districts arent alone in waiting for payments.
In conversations with other districts, there are schools that are far worse than us. Twelve other schools are impacted by the Native American tuition aid. Some other schools havent received aid since 2010. Some schools are several million (dollars) behind and they end up having to borrow money against receivables, Mr. Brouillette said.
For instance, according to a published report, officials with the Gowanda Central School District in Western New York indicated during a Feb. 6 board of education meeting that the state Division of Budget was delinquent in releasing funds for their district to cover Native American tuition. They had reportedly not yet received half of what was due for the 2010-11 school year and nothing for the 2011-12 school year.
School officials in Gowanda were working with state legislators to obtain the funding, and shuffling funds from one account to another to meet their financial responsibilities, according to the report.
Mr. Brouillette and Ms. Jock suggested that contacting elected officials was one avenue to try and get the money, but so far it hadnt worked.
We can contact our local legislators. It seems to be slowed up by all the contracts being renewed around the same time, Mr. Brouillette said.
Massenas contract, which is negotiated between the state Education Department and St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, expired in June 2012. Salmon Rivers expired in June 2010 and was just renegotiated, according to Ms. Jock.
Weve been in contact with our senator. Weve been in contact with the assistant commissioner and commissioner, Ms. Jock said.
Both business officials say its difficult to determine when theyll receive any funding.
In talking to the people at the state Education Department who work in the Native American Division, it doesnt sound like well be receiving anything until the next fiscal year, Mr. Brouillette said.
At Salmon River, Ms. Jock said she believes it may be weeks rather than years before they receive a payment.
Im actually expecting it in the coming months, eight weeks Im hoping. We did just get back the approved contract from them. To me, thats a good sign the contract is speeding things up, she said.
In the meantime, Salmon River has been borrowing money until they receive the funds.
Were doing short-term revenue anticipation notes to keep the money flowing until we get the money, Ms. Jock said.
State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn said theyre working to get funding to the districts as soon as possible.
Approximately 700 Native American students who live on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation attend neighboring schools. The state is responsible for paying non-residential tuition to the school districts for each child. Payment to the Salmon River and Massena school districts has been delayed as a sole source contract is being developed to make payments. We recognize the significance of these non-residential tuition payments to the districts and are working to expedite the process, Mr. Dunn said in an emailed statement.