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St. Stephen's seeks status change to aid staff insurance

Aug 31, 2016 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

St. Stephen's Indian Schools are working to change their status under the Bureau of Indian Education in order to help provide full health insurance to staff.

The change would mean moving from a Public Law 100-297 to a P.L. 93-638 contract. If the move is approved, district staff will qualify for federal health insurance and will receive full coverage for health benefits.

"For now, we've secured temporary health insurance until we secure federal health insurance," superintendent Frank No Runner said.

The schools were under a P.L. 93-638 contract until March of 1975. At that time St. Stephen's Mission separated itself from the school entity, leading to a change in status. The church and schools only share a sewer now, No Runner said.

Once the contract status reverts back to P.L. 93-638, a different "approving official" will sign off on grants and awards for the schools. Otherwise, No Runner said the change won't result in any major differences in the way the schools function.

State funding

Although they're not public schools, the state provides some financial support to St. Stephen's as well. On a rotating annual basis, the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes take turns serving as the agency that represents the schools, sending an invoice to the state to request funding.

The state replies with an allocation, and the tribe is in charge of handing the money over to the district. To apply for the contract change, the school had to submit research and documents about its finances, status history and other information.

"It's been a lot of work," No Runner said, adding that the 90-day process started in July.

The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho business councils have been very supportive of the application for status change, he noted.

The tribes are connected to the school through a separate contract and provide some funding as well, but the BIE provides most of the money that supports St. Stephen's schools.

No Runner said the BIE was able to allocate full funding this year. In 2013, when the federal government cut billions of dollars from budgets as a result of sequestration, the BIE took a big hit and had to delay funding that was slashed substantially.

The St. Stephen's Indian School Board of Education provides oversight.

This year, the schools got more than $900,000 in supplemental funding from the state. In addition, with the help of Northern Arapaho tribal liaison Sergio Maldonado and Wyoming Department of Education consultant Rob Black, the schools were allocated $1.4 million in supplemental state funding.

"It's a big difference, and it's going to help," No Runner said.

Administrators plan to use the money to update technology at the schools and help pay for a new school bus. No Runner said the schools have an aging bus fleet that consists of five 10-year-old buses that eventually will need to be replaced.

Audit

The last financial audit for the schools revealed several issues with their Title I and No Child Left Behind monies. Experts in managing federal dollars were brought in to oversee the finances and find ways to address the problems. Now, the schools have the "restructuring" grade and are on the road to a better audit.

"We worked really hard to fix it," No Runner said.

He noted that he was not the superintendent present at the time of the last audit.

"We're doing the prep work now for the upcoming audit," he said. "It looks like we're going to have a sound financial plan moving forward."

The financial team is returning in October to see how the plan is progressing.

No Runner said revising the financial management structure at the schools has been his hardest task during his first year on the job as superintendent.

He also is working as high school principal this year. Cheryl Meyers left to work for the Wyoming Indian schools.

No Runner said his second hardest task has been juggling the different personalities throughout the district. The challenges are rewarding, though.

"I get to help everyone get on the same page at the same time," he said.

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2017-10-22

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