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State behind in payments to Massena, Salmon River

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The state owes the Massena Central School District $800,000 and the Salmon River Central School District, Fort Covington, $3.4 million to cover tuition for Native American students who live on the reservation and attend those schools.

State Education Department officials said they recognize the significance of the payments and are working to expedite them.

Massena Business Manager Nickolas P. Brouillette said his district received $879,000 of the $1.68 million it was owed, leaving a balance of $801,000.

“We received a payment this fiscal year. It was for half of the amount that was due to us. The money we received was for the ’11-12 school year,” Mr. Brouillette said.

Natascha Jock, business executive at Salmon River, said the state owes her district payments dating as far back as the 2010-11 school year.

They include $3.4 million for Native American tuition at Salmon River Central School, but $12.3 million overall when including the St. Regis Mohawk School. That doesn’t include 2012-13 funding, she said.

The St. Regis Mohawk School is budgeted separately from Salmon River and is funded completely by the state, Ms. Jock said.

Slightly more than 200 students live on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation and attend Massena Central.

Salmon River Central had 526 registered Mohawk students attending school last year.

The two districts aren’t alone in waiting for payments.

“In conversations with other districts, there are schools that are far worse than us,” Mr. Brouillette said.

“Twelve other schools are impacted by the Native American tuition aid. Some other schools haven’t received aid since 2010. Some schools are several million (dollars) behind and they end up having to borrow money against receivables.”

Mr. Brouillette and Ms. Jock said that contacting elected officials was one avenue to try to get the money, but that so far it hasn’t worked.

“It seems to be slowed up by all the contracts being renewed around the same time,” Mr. Brouillette said.

Massena’s contract, which is negotiated between NYSED and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, expired in June.

Salmon River’s contract expired in June 2010 and was just renegotiated, Ms. Jock said.

“In talking to the people at the state Education Department who work in the Native American Division, it doesn’t sound like we’ll be receiving anything until the next fiscal year,” Mr. Brouillette said.

At Salmon River, Ms. Jock said she believes it may be weeks rather than years before the district receives a payment.

“We’re doing short-term revenue anticipation notes to keep the money flowing until we get the money,” she said.

NYSED spokesman Thomas Dunn said the department is working to get funding to the districts as soon as possible.

“We recognize the significance of these nonresidential tuition payments to the districts and are working to expedite the process,” Mr. Dunn said in an emailed statement.

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