Indian education reduction concerns parents and youth by M. Jill Karolevitz Members of the Native American Parents Association appeared before the Vermillion School Board Monday night to request that the board reconsider its decision to reduce its financial support of Indian Education Director Kathy Prasek.
According to Superintendent Robert Mayer, the state legislature�s failure to provide adequate funding for education, increased costs, the inability to raise taxes and using general fund monies to provide staff raises has resulted in the need for an estimated $226,950 general fund budget cuts in the Vermillion School District for the 2001-02 school year.
Included in the cuts is the district�s contribution � $6,000 � to Prasek�s salary, part of which is paid for by a Bureau of Indian Affairs grant.
Other cuts included: not rehiring a library/computer aide; dropping the transportation/
study hall aide position; eliminating early bird classes in biology and industrial tech; eliminating two assistant coaching positions in the VHS athletic department; dropping five overnight trips for boys� and girls� basketball, wrestling, gymnastics and volleyball from the athletic schedule; reducing aide time at both Austin and Jolley; not replacing the German language position at the middle school and dropping a full-time library aide position, as well as reducing vocal music lessons.
There are 110 Native American students in the Vermillion School District who benefit from Prasek�s work, according to Beth Todd-Bazemore, who spoke as a representative of the Native American Parents Association. Prasek�s work focuses on basic educational and cultural needs and activities of these students, she said. This includes mentoring, educational support, tutoring and study time.
�She (Prasek) acts as a home-school liaison and community liaison,� Todd-Bazemore continued. �When a child is not coming to school, she visits the home to see what the problem is. She also works to get parents more involved in their children�s education.�
Todd-Bazemore reminded the school board that the Native American Parents Association requested, and the school board agreed, to supplement Prasek�s salary five years ago. She added that in those five years, Native American students have improved in many facets of their education in Vermillion.
�Now you have decided to stop your support and that has resulted in a substantial cut in
pay and will force her (Prasek) to reduce her time at the schools from five to three days a week,� Todd-Bazemore said. �We need you to know that this matters to us and our children. Perhaps you don�t realize the impact that Kathy has on our children. The kids are now more involved, the parents are more involved and the kids feel like they are more a part of the school community because of Kathy.
�We wonder what message you are sending to the kids that look to her as a mentor, advisor and advocate,� she continued. �These young people have special cultural and educational needs and we ask that you reconsider your decision.�
Cori Bazemore, a Vermillion High School freshman, read a letter written by Native American students who support Prasek�s position.
�Kathy Prasek has made a big difference,� she said. �Nothing means more to her than to see us do well. She believes that education is the key to our future. She has been our mentor. She bends over backwards to help keep up our studies and motivate us. The number of Native American students is growing and we deserve to have someone who knows us and cares.�
School board President Tom Craig noted the school board�s appreciation of the comments and concerns.
�We concur that Kathy Prasek has done an excellent job with the Native American community and this is a very important thing that she does,� he said.
Craig explained that the decision for the cut was not meant as an affront to Native American students or their parents, nor does it mean that the school board is not sensitive to their needs. He also explained the reasons for the budget cut.
�As you know from reading stories in the Plain Talk, we have spent more from our budget than we have generated in revenue,� Craig said. �The same thing will continue next year and the year after that. We cannot control our revenues, so the only way we can control our budget is by controlling our expenditures. We cannot spend more than we take in indefinitely.
�Several months ago, we made plans to make cuts,� he continued. �This is the first round and there will be more next year unless our revenue situation changes. The money you are looking at represents a small part of the cuts we made. We cut in excess of $200,000 from our budget, and in some cases that involved jobs.
�We tried to approach this so that the cuts that were made would have the least impact on all students throughout the entire district,� Craig added. �I�m not saying we were right or wrong, but we will revisit this and take your comments under advisement.�