Diné immersion school to close?

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, February 7, 2013

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P arents of students at Tsehootsooi Diné bi Olta, the only Navajo language immersion school in the Arizona public school system, are worried the school may close or merge with another school, after receiving a document from Window Rock School District that indicates the district is in severe financial crisis.

"At this point, we haven't been notified," said parent Amber Crotty. "We want to get in on the front end of the conversation."

A Window Rock School District employee said she wasn't authorized to comment on the issue and referred this reporter to the district's business manager, who didn't return a call by press time.

The document received by some parents is 47 pages long and consists mostly of tables and comparisons with other districts that show Window Rock spends far more per capita on educating its students than comparable districts statewide.

The district has been able to hold it together, according to the document, but with the perfect storm of an expiring sales tax allocation, federal budget cuts and an accounting error by the previous Apache County treasurer that cost the district $1.9 million, it's on the brink of financial collapse.

If spending trends continue, the district will be $1.6 million in the red by the end of the present fiscal year and underwater by $6.6 million by the end of fiscal 2014.

Meanwhile, every one of the district's schools is below enrollment capacity — and what has Diné bi Olta parents worried is that their school's enrollment is only at 35 percent of capacity, the lowest of all the schools.

While the document never actually suggests merging Diné bi Olta with a nearby non-immersion elementary, Tséhootsooi Elementary School, that seems to be where it's heading, Crotty said.

She said parents aren't going to wait to find out.

"We're organizing a meeting," she said. "We just want to make sure parents are part of the discussion."

Crotty said she is drafting a letter to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Council delegates Jonathan Hale, chair of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee and Roscoe Smith, member of the Resources and Development Committee, to make them aware of the situation.

Parents are concerned because "there's no other school like" Diné bi Olta, Crotty said.

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