Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud said that the "omnibus" funding bill that passed the House this afternoon includes funding to build a new K-8 school on the Passamaquoddy Pleasant Point Indian reservation to replace the Beatrice Rafferty School. The school is a U.S. Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) funded school and serves approximately 125 students. There are 183 such schools around the country, mostly on Indian reservations.
"The Beatrice Rafferty School has been on a list of schools that have been targeted for replacement for ten years, during which time they have been living with dangerous and unsafe conditions including weakened walls and mold," Pingree and Michaud said. "It's a terrible learning environment for the 125 students and their teachers but this funding is going to bring an end to those problems and allow the community to build a new school."
The bill that passed the House today includes funding for just one Bureau of Indian Education School in the entire country--a replacement for the Beatrice Rafferty School in Sipayik. Pingree and Michaud expect the design and construction of a new school to be fully funded by the legislation that passed yesterday.
Pingree is a member of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over this funding. At a hearing last February, Pingree made the case for funding the construction to Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary ofIndian Affairs in the Department of the Interior.
"I let the school committee know the good news Tuesday night and they were very excited. We started that project 15 years ago and now we're finally close to the point where we will be finally getting a new school," said Ron Jenkins, Superintendent of Schools for Maine Indian Education.
In her testimony, Pingree said:
The Beatrice Rafferty School in Maine was included on the 2004list of priority construction projects, yet today, nine years later, they are still only in the planning stages, and have yet to receive any funding for design, let alone for construction.
In the time they have waited for their funding to come through the school has needed extensive repairs just to ensure that the building remains usable. That means hundreds of thousands of additional dollars have been spent rebuilding walls that have been compromised, replacing a portion of the roof, and conducting ongoing mold inspections to make sure that their extensive mold growth hasn't become too toxic.
Every day this continues we are sending the message that it isacceptable to allow 125 kids in Maine to breathe, play, and learn in an extremely dangerous environment. This is simply unconscionable.
Given the length of time they have already waited, the uncertainty around sequestration, and recent proposals to zero out funding for new construction, they told me they don't even know if they can be sure the money will come at all.
Can I have your assurance that someone will contact the school to confirm the timing and next steps for this funding?
The spending bill that contains the funding is expected to also pass the Senate later this week.