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KNBA News - Tribes to get $100 million back pay; No relief in view for overcrowded Nanwalek School

Feb 25, 2016

Alaska tribes to Receive $100 Million in Back Pay

A federal court has approved payment of almost a billion dollars by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to 700 tribes across the nation. The settlement is for decades of underpayment by the BIA to tribes for education, road construction, and other contracts.

Today [Wednesday] New Mexico federal judge James Parker approved negotiated settlement of 940-million dollars. Of that, a little over 100-million dollars will be coming to Alaska Native tribes. Payments to individual Alaska tribes range from 8-thousand for a few tribes to 15-point-6-million dollars for the regional non-profit Kawerak.

An attorney representing several tribes, Lloyd Miller of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, and Miller in Anchorage, says the payments are expected to come through this summer. The suit was initially filed in 1990 by the Ramah Navaho. It was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in the tribes' favor in 2012. 

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Nanwalek School sees no Relief for Overcrowding

By Daysha Eaton, KBBI – Homer

The Nanwalek School is nearing 150 percent capacity, but the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district has no plan to expand the facility. It’s so crowded that next year, the principal plans to move one class into a re-purposed garage.                                                                 

Nanwalek School is nearing 150 percent capacity, but the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district has no plan to expand the facility. It’s so crowded that next year, the principal plans to move one class into a re-purposed garage. Daysha Eaton with KBBI in Homer reports from the Allutiq/Sugpiaq Community of Nanwalek [near the outhern tip of the Kenai Peninsula].

Principal Nancy Kleine tours me through Nanwalek School where somewhere between 75 and 85 students, depending on enrollment at any given time, are packed into a building that is supposed to hold 60. She points out the room that’s the biggest problem.

“This is our secondary science and math  room,”said  Kleine.

The room is full with the current 21 middle school students, but over the coming years, Kleine says, the class will become even more crowded – next year and especially in two years due to an even larger projection of middle school students.

And that’s why Kleine is re-purposing a garage.

This was in the past it’s been I think a shop and woodworking area. We don’t currently offer woodworking, so the district is going to purchase a conex which will go out into the corner of the property out there,” said Kleine. “And all of this stuff that’s out here will go into the conex and this room will get some flooring and be a room for kids to be able to learn in.”

John Kvasnikoff, the First Chief of Nanwalek, says his people have been trying to get the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to do something about their overcrowded school for a long time.

“I know we’ve been overcrowded for years,” said Kvasnikoff, “And you know it’s like we’ve been asking what’s going to happen, you know?” And they’ve never really said anything and it’s getting serious.”

The school was built before statehood by the Bureau of Indian affairs in 1958. There’s been no expansion at the school since an addition in 1977. But the population of Nanwalek has continued to grow.  A lot. According to census data, Nanwalek’s population has nearly doubled since the state started keeping track in 1990.

Kvasnikoff, who has three children attending the school, says he believes the crowding is beginning to have a negative impact on students.

1“It’s hurting our kids; they don’t have no room for them,” said Kvasnikoff. “We’ve been saying it for years. It’s we’ve kind of been like out of site out of mind.”

The remote community’s concerns about crowding and requests for expansion were ignored by the District while they were flush with money, says Kvasnikoff. Now that the problem is getting worse, there are no funds due to declining oil revenue. Residents are frustrated, he says, after years of sitting on the sidelines watching other schools around the region get fancy facility upgrades.

“Look at Seldovia, they have way less kids than we do and they have this nice pool.”

Julie Cisco, Director of Planning and Operations for the District says Kvasnikoff is right.

“What we need to do is build or add onto. But as you mentioned and everybody’s aware of, there’s no funding. And we’re not allowed to bond. The legislature took away our bonding for five years, if not more. So we don’t really have a way to do anything.”

Cisco notes that in addition, the state formula does not include the high number of intensive needs students at the school, which often require an aide and additional space for learning activities.

Kvasnikoff  says he believes Nanwalek will continue to grow.

“We could use a regular sized gym, more classrooms – they need more classrooms and you know they need more other stuff, not just classrooms,” he said. “Keep our kids fit and we want them to participate. We’re growing and growing and w’ere going to keep growing.”

And, even though there’s no money right now, he wants to see an expansion plan from the district so that the problem is addressed as soon as funds become available.