Federal program provides supplemental funding

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SHIPROCK — The Central Consolidated School District Board of Education voted Thursday to form a committee to negotiate with the Navajo Nation to continue contracting with the Johnson-O'Malley Program.

The Johnson-O'Malley (JOM) Program is a federal program that provides supplemental funding and services for eligible Native American students enrolled in public schools.

In December, the board approved ending the subcontract between CCSD and the Navajo Nation for the JOM Program.

The board also approved a measure that will allow the district to apply directly to the federal government for funding.

The Navajo Nation, through its Department of Diné Education (DODE), oversees the distribution of the federal funding to eligible school districts located on and off the reservation.

Board members voted unanimously on Thursday to have district administrators and two board members meet with DODE officials to discuss future management of the JOM Program. Their decision came after three hours of discussion between administrators, board members, parents and tribal officials.

Berlinda Begay, the bilingual multicultural coordinator for CCSD, said the district decided to end the subcontract in order to comply with state procurement laws and due to the lack of a quorum for the district's Indian Education Committee (IEC).

The IEC participates in the planning, development and implementation of the JOM Program. Its membership consists of one parent representative from each of the 13 chapters in the district's boundaries.

The IEC, which was discontinued by the board's decision in December, is responsible for approving the district's requests for reimbursement from the JOM Program.

"Without a quorum, the request for reimbursements could not happen," Begay said.

Rannita Henderson was an IEC member at the time the body was dissolved. She said the organization's issues went beyond having trouble reaching a quorum and included a lack of communication between the district and committee members.

The committee repeatedly asked for reports from the district in order to conduct business, but no information was provided, she added.

CCSD was awarded $419,438 from the JOM Program for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Cheryl Thompson, director of finance for the district, said CCSD used Title VI, Impact Aid and operational funds to cover expenses the JOM Program would have provided.

Superintendent Colleen Bowman said the district is open to negotiating with DODE about the JOM Program and whether the district can receive funding.

"At no time were our students ever in jeopardy of losing services. We scrambled and figured out ways to make sure that we tapped into the existing grant funding that we had and existing operational dollars and covered our education plans," Bowman said.

Tommy Lewis Jr., superintendent of schools for DODE, expressed frustration and told the board that the district was violating its subcontract by eliminating the IEC and moving forward with proposals to manage future JOM funding.

"This contract that we have with you has a dispute resolution. From all indication, it looks like you failed to honor the contract that we have," Lewis said. "From our point of view, this contract is legal, and it's binding."

In later comments, Lewis said there is room for improvement and support for continuing the JOM Program.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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