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Phoenix-Florida Land Swap Threatens an Indian School

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WASHINGTON--In what may be the largest land swap in the nation's history, the federal government wants to trade some valuable real estate in Phoenix for some swampland in Florida.

In the process, a boarding school for 100 Indian students in Phoenix may be shut down.

A bill pending before the Congress would authorize the government to exchange 104 acres of land in downtown Phoenix--valued at $122 million--for 118,000 acres of "environmentally sensitive'' swampland in south Florida.

The Florida land is owned by Collier Enterprises and the Barron Collier Company. The federal government wants it to expand the Big Cypress National Preserve.

In addition to receiving the Phoenix land, Collier Enterprises and the Barron Collier Company also will pay the federal government $34.9 million.

Sixty-eight acres of the Phoenix land houses the Phoenix Indian School, one of eight boarding schools for Indian high-school students operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

If the bill, which has the support of Arizona's entire Congressional delegation, is signed into law, the school will be closed.

Officials at the school, which held its graduation ceremonies on May 20, could not be reached for comment last week.

Declining Enrollments

Declining enrollments and the poor condition of the school may have prompted Arizona's Congressional delegation to agree to the closing, said Deborah Broken Rope, staff assistant in the House Office of Indian Affairs.

Although the school has the capacity to serve up to 700 students, enrollment has dropped to about 100 students in recent years.

In addition, the school buildings need extensive repairs and asbestos removal, said Ms. Broken Rope.

Since fiscal 1986, according to the aide, the B.I.A. has recommended an end to funding for the school in its budget proposals, but the Congress has rebuffed such suggestions.

"The bureau's position has been that this school is not cost-effective to operate,'' said Ms. Broken Rope.

Now, in the light of the proposed land-swap, Congressional support for the school has diminished.

According to Congressional aides, no members of the Arizona delegation have indicated a desire to include language in the bill to save the school. They said the lawmakers may be reluctant to pledge the financial support necessary to improve school conditions and keep the institution running.

Ms. Broken Rope said her office was working to include nonbinding language in the bill that calls for suitable placement and follow-up for the students who would be affected if the Phoenix school is closed.

Those students would have to attend the nearest B.I.A. or local public school or go to another boarding school.

The bill has been approved by the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs; a companion bill was recently introduced in the Senate.--R.R.W.

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