Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roseau River chief threatens to close 'low-grade' school

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ROSEAU River First Nation's children need to go to public school to get the quality education they deserve -- they can't get it at home, Chief Terry Nelson declared Thursday.

"Parents have a right to send their kids where they get a good education," Nelson said.

Roseau River is threatening to close its own Ginew School and send every child in the community -- an additional 130 kids from kindergarten to Grade 8 -- to Border Land School Division in Dominion City.

Nelson said the band has tested its children and found they're well behind children attending better-funded public schools.

Roseau River is already spending $100,000 from other budgets so parents can send some of the reserve's kids to Dominion City, he said.

Ottawa pays $4,140 per student to be educated on the reserve, but Border Land charges $6,800, Nelson said.

The federal aboriginal affairs and northern development department says the band has no obligation to cover those costs and can tell parents to pay the tuition themselves.

"There's 75 per cent unemployment in the community, there's 420 people on welfare," said Nelson. "The department is saying, 'we're going to maintain this low-grade school, and you're going to send your kids there.' "

Nelson said not only are reserve schools underfunded compared to public schools, but Ginew School has no library, no music room or program and poor washrooms.

Because Roseau has no high school, Ottawa pays Border Land directly to educate Roseau's grades 9 to 12 students at the K-12 Roseau Valley School in Dominion City.

It's not yet clear whether the public school has room for another 130 children, regardless of the funding issues.

An aboriginal affairs spokesman said federal officials met with Roseau River Wednesday as part of a regularly scheduled business session and will return next week to discuss the school issue separately.

"The chief doesn't have the authority to close the school, so as far as we're concerned, it's not closing," said the federal spokesman.

And if Nelson and the band council leave the school empty by trying to send all the children to public school, the band will have to find the money somewhere in its budget, he said.

Roseau is under third-party management, Nelson pointed out, arguing it's not the chief and band council running up debt to send some kids to Dominion City.

Some First Nations have chosen to contract Frontier School Division to operate their schools, in which case Ottawa pays the costs at public school rates, Nelson said. "When they get the bill from Frontier, they pay it, no questions asked."

But Ottawa says it can't afford to pay Frontier to run the Ginew School, Nelson said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2011 A9

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