Alaska Balks at Taking Over 37 Schools From Federal

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Alaska Governor Jay S. Hammond recently announced that he would turn to his state's Congressional delegation in Washington for help in working out a compromise between the state department of education and the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (bia) on the transfer of federal schools for Alaska natives to the state school system.

Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the state department of education, explained that Congress will have final say over any school-transfer plan that would go into effect this year. The state's Senators and Representative have been asked to persuade their colleagues to adopt a position beneficial to the state.

Alaska education officials and the bia have been at loggerheads over the transfer of the 37 schools since September 1981, when the federal agency first proposed transferring control of all of them to the state, according to Mr. Gamble.

The bia has turned over more than 100 federal schools to the state since 1959, when Alaska entered the union. State officials, Mr. Gamble said, have long been receptive to the idea of a unified school system.

But the state balked at the bia's most recent proposal to turn over responsibility for all remaining bia schools in Alaska. State officials cited the budgetary strains that would be caused by the high cost of operating the schools.

Thirty-six of the schools in question are rural day schools; the other is a boarding high school. Altogether, the 37 schools en-roll about 2,400 students.

Mr. Gamble said state officials estimate the cost of running the 36 day schools, which are scattered throughout rural Alaska, would be $18.5 million annually. An additional $7-million would be required to operate the Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school.

Mr. Gamble also said that approximately $53 million would be needed to renovate the buildings to bring them up to state fire and safety codes.

In early March, bia officials presented the state with two options regarding the transfer of the state schools, Mr. Gamble continued. Under the first option, the state would assume control of 16 of the day schools by next October, but would receive no federal funds to offset operating costs.

Under the second option, he said, the state would assume control of all of the schools and receive approximately $6 million in federal aid. Under both proposals, the bia would retain control of the Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school through the end of the 1982-83 school year.

Mr. Gamble said the state considers both takeover plans inadequate. ''First, we would like to see the bia go to the native villages and find out what the residents want to have done," he said. "We also want them to pay to upgrade the facilities in order to meet state codes."

The bia, however, has no plans to alter the options it has presented to the state, "because the federal government has limited funds as well," said Carl Shaw, a spokesman for the bureau.--T.M.

Vol. 01, Issue 30

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