Community , Education

Osage Language Immersion School fields questions about spending

With a legislative study looming on the horizon, the Osage Language Immersion School is fielding questions about its spending habits.

At the committee’s Nov. 27 meeting, members of the Osage Congress’ Education Committee peppered representatives from the tribe’s education department about the finances of its programs, including the two-year-old Daposka Ahnkodapi.

“It was mentioned to us that we should look at how much it costs per student at the immersion school to try to make sure our dollars are being spent wisely,” Congresswoman Shannon Edwards said. “The concern that the school is costing more than we’re going to reasonably be able to provide without cutting other areas of education or other services.”

As part of the budgeting process in September, Congress appropriated $1.24 million for the school, which serves children ranging in age from six weeks through second grade, with plans to add a grade annually. However, in addition to the appropriation, Congressman Eli Potts announced a request during the early days of the 2018 Tzi-Zho Session for a study into the school’s accreditation efforts, funding sources, education planning, school board establishment, facilities and special service professionals.

The per pupil spending figure used by Congress’ Education Committee during the meeting was derived by dividing the school’s budget by the total number of enrolled students. Using that method, the school’s per-pupil spending for the current year is about $22,570 for the current fiscal year, although both the school’s headmaster, David Webb, and the tribe’s interim treasurer, Jim Littleton, cautioned and said that method does not paint a wholly accurate picture.

“If you’re talking about the immersion program in particular and what’s counted, it depends on who is doing the accounting and what they’re accounting for,” Littleton said.

“The state average is $8,700 per child but does not include instructional costs or support services. We’re not able to do that because as you know, some of the administrative people teach in the classes. We have people wearing more than one hat.”

Littleton said he consulted three school superintendents and several tribes about per-pupil spending in order to better speak to Daposka Ahnkodapi’s finances. He declined to specifically name which schools and tribes he spoke to, but with per-pupil expenses ranging from $3,800 to upwards of $20,000, said the figure used by Congress is comparable with what he was quoted.

“Before I give you (the committee) any numbers, I want you to know that we’re in line with the other tribes,” he said. “Really close. In reality, six more students in the immersion program would make our number match one of the other tribe’s numbers exactly.”