By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Asst. Editor
CHEROKEE, N.C. – While no cuts have been proposed, the Cherokee Central School Board discussed a lower budget projection for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) during its meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 5. Three Tribal Council representatives visited the meeting to give a heads-up on the budget issue they said was just announced to them.
Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper, Wolftown Rep. Mike Parker, and Yellowhill Rep. David Wolfe were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and delivered news to the School Board that the EBCI tribal government has a projected shortfall of $75 million (from $515 million last fiscal year to $440 million this upcoming fiscal year). The representatives were sure to relate that this is simply a projection.
Rep. Stamper noted, “I didn’t want for there to be a misconception that we’re here to ask for a cut. We’re just trying to help and give some guidance as to what’s going on. You guys say that you’re good with your budget and you don’t want to change it. We are looking at every other entity as well. It’s not you guys individually.”
The Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) budget amount from the EBCI was $11 million last year, and they’re asking for $14 million this year. School Board representatives spoke passionately about the school and its needs.
Jennifer Thompson, School Board chairperson, told the Council representatives, “We don’t want to cut our budget. I know you’re coming to us in good faith, but we can find a way that you guys can support that $14 million just to support our staff. Make that effort as the legislative body of our tribe to put education first.”
She added, “I don’t know a teacher out there that isn’t here every day. They could quit right now and go to the casino and make more money, but they’re not. They’re here teaching our kids…just like you guys were elected to fight for your communities, we were elected to fight for this school system. Part of that school system is our employees. We see what they do on a day-to-day basis and it’s not easy.”
In speaking of funding, Chairperson Thompson noted, “We’ve maximized our ARPA funds, some of the COVID relief funds. We’ve maximized those so we have looked at other areas of sources to utilize those funds and not just ask for things. All the things we’ve put into that budget, it’s not just, ‘oh, let’s just ask for that’. These are needs. All the things that we asked for are need-based. It’s not just something like a wish list. We did cut back. We went for years after COVID of just skimping by. These are things that we can no longer do without.”
Consuela ‘Consie’ Girty, CCS superintendent, said, “This is our Tribe’s number one investment. I’ve stood in front of these guys the first day of school and I said, ‘you’re here, as part of Braves Nation, you’re tasked with taking care of our Tribe’s most valuable resource, in my opinion’. I’ll stand and say that whole-heartedly to anybody.”
“This is ours. It’s ours. It’s the Tribe’s. It’s the EBCI’s. We have 1,282 students out of 1,427 that are EBCI. That’s 1,282 investments. We can create that narrative and we can also encourage. I want more of our people going into the field of education so that we have more of our teachers here teaching our children. So our students look at them and they see themselves, because they’re underrepresented already.”
Superintendent Girty related that the school currently has 37 total vacancies including 27 which are directly education-related. “We’ve got some classes down there that don’t have a teacher or a TA (Teacher’s Assistant) right now. That is what we’re dealing with. Our only bargaining tool right now is that budget and we’re at a standstill. I understand that the tribe’s fiscal year doesn’t start until Oct. 1, but ours starts July 1. So, we’ve been in it for three months.”
Rep. Wolfe commented, “Tribal Council was caught off-guard too with the new number that came out, the new projection…it’s tough.”
“Things are going to get tougher and tighter. It doesn’t matter what we do. That’s our only source of revenue that we have other than the grants that come in. So, I feel your pain and your needs and things in the school, but the reality of it is that that’s the funding source. That’s the golden goose. It’s been attacked in the state of North Carolina.”
He said that the school budget is definitely a priority for the Tribe. “Education, health care, and housing – that’s the big three. Those are the last that I look to cut. Everything else can be cut, but those are the big three. When you’re in politics and trying to run a community and a nation, those are the big three. If you don’t have education, you don’t have housing, and health care, you’re in bad shape.”
Rep. Parker reiterated that there are no plans to cut the school’s budget. “We haven’t even had the opportunity yet to look at our internal projects and things.”
Big Y School Board Rep. Tara Reed-Cooper commented, “This is the school as a whole, and it takes everybody from Consie (Girty) all the way down to the janitors to do what they do with this school. This is our future. This is what we’re responsible for. I’m not going to vote to cut anything on our budget.”
Rep. Stamper said, “Public schools are battling the same thing that you guys are battling. It’s just government, really. We hear you. We appreciate the commitment level that we hear from everybody here, the passion. Going forward, this is something that we all need to be aware of.”
In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, the consent agenda was approved unanimously including the following:
- Hayden Smith approved as the Middle School math teacher
- Sarah Walker approved as a substitute teacher
- Sara Freeman approved as a substitute teacher
- Avery Smith approved as a substitute teacher
- Betty Lossiah approved as a substitute teacher
- Kaitlyn Obuchowski approved as an Elementary teacher assistant
- Angela Panther approved as an Elementary school teacher
- James Jumper approved to volunteer with the JV football team
Three items were approved as walk-in resolutions including:
- No. 24-065 was held for further discussion; approval of Carrah Swimmer as co-head JV basketball coach
- No. 24-066 was held for further discussion; approval of Rachel Bruneel as co-head JV basketball coach
- No. 24-067 was approved unanimously; approval of Shalena Ledford as a student supervisory specialist
The minutes for the Aug. 21 meeting were approved unanimously.
Dr. Heath Roberson, CTE (Career and Technical Education) program director, gave a presentation, along with Sonya Edwards and Tammie Welch, on an upcoming cultural trip experience to Hawaii for four Cherokee High School students as part of the Tsu-ni-sgwa-ni-go-sdi Tsu-ni-hyo-hi program.
The next meeting of the School Board is set for Monday, Sept. 18 at 4:45 p.m. in the Cherokee Central Office board room. These meetings are open to the public.