Schools want regular meetings with Tribe
It has been more than a year and a half since Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) education representatives met with Martha's Vineyard Public School (MVPS) leaders, despite an agreement to meet regularly under an Indian Policies and Procedures (IPP) document approved by the Tribal Council in 2005.
"The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) Superintendent, school committee and principals will meet two or three times annually with Tribal officials, parents of Indian children, and tribal community members, to discuss any comments or concerns regarding Indian children's equal participation in the educational programs of the District," the IPP document states in procedures listed under the first policy heading.
The tribe has approximately 1,100 members. According to MVPS records, 17 children from tribal housing attend West Tisbury and Chilmark Schools, and 10 attend Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.
Superintendent of public schools James Weiss said in a phone call last week that he, his staff, and various school committee members made repeated attempts to set up meetings with tribal representatives, but were unsuccessful. "We've had scheduling difficulties and the Tribe has had some issues of its own - but our goal is to meet in February," he explained.
The last meeting was held on April 26, 2007, at the Wampanoag Tribal Administration Building in Aquinnah. Several UIRSD committee members, Mr. Weiss, MVPS business administrator Amy Tierney, and West Tisbury and Chilmark School administrators met with Wampanoag Tribe Elder June Manning, tribal education director Marlene Panish, and tribal education director Liz Bradley.
"The meetings are opportunities to have a dialogue, to make sure that everybody's needs are being met," said Susan Parker, a UIRSD school committee member who attended the meeting as chairman at the time. "The tribe has had a change in leadership. Dr. Weiss has made multiple calls and we keep reaching out, but we haven't gotten a lot of response. I don't think there are any major issues."
The change in leadership to which she refers occurred in November 2007, with the election of Cheryl Andrews-Maltais as tribal chairwoman. She took office in January 2008, and Tobias Vanderhoop was hired as the new tribal administrator about six months later.
No meetings were held between tribal and MVPS leaders during the 2008-2009 school year, Mr. Weiss said. Ms. Andrews-Maltais did not return several phone messages from The Martha's Vineyard Times this week asking for comment.
About four months ago, the tribe hired Heidi Vanderhoop as the new education director.
"With the switch out of our administration and our education director, things had fallen by the wayside. We have planned a February meeting with the Up-Island Regional School District, and plan to have at least three meetings a year," Ms. Vanderhoop said in a phone call Monday. "I've been talking with the superintendent, coordinating everything, so it should work out more smoothly in the future."
"I plan to attend as many meetings as I can, as long as other engagements don't get in the way," Ms. Vanderhoop added.
Establishing regularly scheduled meetings between the Tribe and UIRSD was a valuable component of the IPP document, which was created and implemented as a requirement for application to the U.S. Government's Impact Aid Program.
The Impact Aid Program provides financial assistance to local school districts that have lost property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt Federal property, including Indian lands. Impact Aid Program regulations require that any local educational agency such as the UIRSD that claims children residing on Indian lands for the purpose of receiving Impact Aid funds must establish an IPP document that includes eight specified policies.
After the Wampanoag Tribal Council approved its IPP document in 2005, over the next three years Ms. Tierney worked with Aquinnah financial leaders and the Wampanoag Tribal Housing Authority to complete the complicated federal application process for Impact Aid funds.
In 2008 the UIRSD received $12,743 in Impact Aid funds. Most Impact Aid funds are considered general aid to the recipient school districts, to be used in whatever manner they choose in accordance with their local and State requirements. The UIRSD school committee members, however, voted to put the Impact Aid funds towards reducing Aquinnah's assessment for the school district, since tribal housing is located in Aquinnah.
Last Friday, Ms. Tierney said she had just received $9,100 in Impact Aid funds for FY09, and had applied for FY10 funds. It will be up to the UIRSD school committee to vote on how the FY09 funds will be used, she said.
In the meantime, the UIRSD school committee is continuing efforts to include Tribal members. At a meeting on January 26, the school committee accepted Diane Gandy's letter of retirement as the head of Chilmark School, effective at the end of the school year, and authorized the formation of a search committee to fill her position.
Ms. Parker said school committee member Roxanne Ackerman suggested that Mr. Weiss contact the Tribe about appointing a member to the search committee. In addition, Ms. Gandy told the school committee she will make it a priority to visit the Wampanoag Tribal Administration with the new head of Chilmark School before she retires, Ms. Parker noted.