Over the last several months, we’ve been hearing about the Bureau of Indian Education’s desire to transfer authority of Navajo BIE-funded schools and place it under the authority of the Diné Nation. After reading the article in the Times, efforts to implement this transfer project will become increasingly adversarial at a time when adversity is the last thing our children need.
According to board members of Navajo BIE and grant schools, council members and tribal officials, as implementation of this move is under discussion, the environment is not conducive to collaborative partnerships — something essential for this project to move forward and for the council to approve the transfer.
Navajo students, whether in BIE or public schools, face enormous challenges — many of those challenges are directly related to the fact that so many of them grow up in impoverished homes. Some are homeless. Some are hungry. Some have only one parent. Some have bad teachers and administrators. It is difficult — and expensive — to help students in such distress learn. And yet that is exactly what a change of this extent must address, which I did not see in the article, how the plan would address these difficult circumstances. For far too many children in these schools, the educational system is letting them down. Most of what I read is about exercising tribal control, funding, and little to none about how BIE schools will get better under this change.
For too long, instead of trying sincerely to improve Navajo schools — to put the kids first — various interest groups have fought one another and pointed fingers. The school boards, the BIE, Diné tribal leaders, and the Department of Diné Education administrators have all played this game. This feels like another one of those items.
There are no silver bullets to solve what ails Navajo education in high-poverty areas, especially in BIE schools. I am told there are tools and efforts that have proven successful for improving Navajo schools. We should invest in them. If our leaders focus on the right approaches and opportunities, changing the direction of educational performance of Navajo children can be as simple as ABC.
A major concern as described to me by a BIA official, BIA through the BIE would like very much to dump BIE education in the laps of the tribe without providing sufficient guarantees and then wipe their hands clean and say to Congress, “It is out of our hands, talk to the tribes,” etc.
If what I read is the blueprint plan for implementing this change of authority, it does not come close to what I expected to see in such a plan. I am certain, as told to me by experts of how to improve schools, Dr. Tommy Lewis and his staff are in over their heads on this one.
Empathy for Jim Parris
As a former tribal financial manager/controller and current consultant (also a certified public accountant), I am well aware of the challenges facing individuals in Mr. Jim Parris’ position. Trying to keep constituents, executive management, and governing councils happy is an almost impossible task.
When I read the article in the Navajo Times, it reminded me of some of my experiences in tribal government. Unfortunately, it can be more of “who you know” rather than “what you know.” On the surface, it appears Mr. Parris and the Navajo Nation Council have gotten under each other’s skin for some reason other than performance. I would encourage the council to be very careful in deciding to terminate a man of Mr. Parris’ experience and credentials, unless there is truly a justifiable reason to do so.
As CPAs, we are charged with ethical and responsible management of our clients’/employers’ accounting systems and records. Sometimes that responsibility requires us to say “no” to very high-level people within the governments we serve. Unfortunately, a “no” to the wrong person can sometimes lead to political difficulties.
The bottom line is that unless Mr. Parris has truly done something to warrant termination (which is hard for me to believe), please don’t let political issues destroy the relationship between the Navajo Nation and Jim Parris. A man of his background can help the Nation move forward proactively with solid financial information.
Marc Vande Sande