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Arapahoe/St. Stephen's school merger to be examined during interim by legislative committe

Mar 10, 2016 By Christina George, Staff Writer

The schools are about 4 miles apart on 17 Mile Road south of Riverton.

A legislative committee is considering a merger of two school systems on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said the schools at Arapahoe and St. Stephen's have financial difficulties and declining enrollment, and suggested a merger be studied in the interim now that the 2016 legislative session is over.

"I am just wondering if we could engage in discussion between the two down the road about having a more unified arrangement between the two schools," Case said. "I am trying to figure out a way to merge the two or have the two merge."

Case is co-chairman of the Select Committee on Tribal Relations. He pitched the interim topic to the rest of the committee at a meeting March 1 in Cheyenne but didn't provide details about how a merger could work.

The schools are about 4 miles apart on 17 Mile Road. St. Stephen's Indian School is federally funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while Arapahoe's schools are within Fremont County School District 38 and funded by the state of Wyoming.

Also, St. Stephen's is a kindergarten-through-12th-grade system, while Arapahoe is a K-8 district that operates a charter high school.

The Wyoming Department of Education reports Arapahoe's enrollment at 426 students. St. Stephen's staff said enrollment was at 219 at the start of the school year.

Sergio Maldonado, the state's Northern Arapaho tribal liaison and former St. Stephen's board member, said Case's idea "has been on the table" for some time.

He said the BIA has been habitually late in providing operation monies for St. Stephen's, and sometimes, the checks have been up to a year delayed, forcing the school to tap into its reserves.

Maldonado said one issue at Arapahoe is the high turnover rate of superintendents and principals.

"Too often, when something goes wrong with a student, a parent, a teacher, they will take it to the board, and the board will immediately fire the superintendent or that person," he said.

Maldonado said the facilities at both sites could be better used in one system.

"My observation, if we truly value education at cultural and American levels, unification may be the best approach to deal with the scenario that is first and foremost - money directed," he said, later adding, "We could certainly be using our money better."

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