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June 19, 2019

10/21/2015 8:52:00 AM
Deal signed for school funding from tribe
Sandy Stokes

The La Conner School Board on Monday signed a proposed agreement with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community outlining the details of the $400,000 funding contribution the tribe promised last December.
For months, school and tribal officials have been negotiating the terms of the gift. School Board President Rick Thompson said he was hopeful this final deal, brokered between school and tribal attorneys, would be approved by the Swinomish Indian Senate, which is expected to consider it next month.
Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby, in San Diego on Tuesday for the National Congress of American Indians conference, said, “We have not seen the interlocal agreement as it was approved by the school board.”
He noted that the tribe has already signed funding agreements with Fire District 13, the La Conner Library District, Medic One and the county.  “We look forward to finalizing an agreement with the school district so that we can send the school district the tribe’s contribution from the Use & Occupancy Taxes collected for the first half of 2015,” he said.
The issue of tribal support for the schools and other public agencies came about last year when 931 parcels in Shelter Bay and Pull & Be Damned Road neighborhood were removed from the county property tax rolls following a federal court ruling that structures on tribal land, even those owned by non-tribal members, are immune from county state and local government taxes.
The homes that are now tax exempt were built on leased reservation land held in trust for the Swinomish Tribe by the federal government. While the homeowners were never taxed on the value of the land, they were taxed on the value of their buildings.
Before the properties came off the tax rolls, the school district expected to receive close to $800,000 in revenue from the now tax exempt parcels. About two-thirds of the school’s approximately 600 students live on the tax-free land.
Much of the shortfall in taxes was shifted to the remaining taxpayers, causing some people in La Conner to see their property tax bills jump by close to 25 percent this year. On Monday, school officials indicated that the tribe’s contribution could help ease the local tax burden.
The tribe established its own taxing authority, and this year began collecting taxes from the non-Indian property owners whose homes were built on leased reservation land. Using calculations based on current county tax rates from adjacent privately owned land, the tribe stands to collect around $2 million this year in property tax.
Under the agreement signed by the school board on Monday, the $400,000 contribution from the tribe will come from the taxes it collects.
But the amount actually contributed to the schools could be less if some of the tribe’s new taxpayers don’t pay. Also, there is a clause that the amount could be renegotiated to be adjusted when the district receives “levy equalization funding” from the state.
The agreement is not perfect, noted school board President Rick Thompson at Monday’s meeting. “Even though there are still some places I don’t agree with,” he said, he was ready to sign.
Another aspect of the agreement is that La Conner Schools will customize the state’s “Since Time Immemorial” curriculum on Native American culture to include information specific to Swinomish.
Also, the district has agreed to work with the tribe to develop a program to teach and give second-language credit for Lushootseed, the native tongue of the Coast Salish people.
School board member Janie Beasley, who is Swinomish, said there are currently three young tribal members now studying Lushootseed and working toward becoming certified to teach it.
While the language won’t be offered this year, this year’s agreement provides a process to achieve that goal, Thompson said.
Swinomish Tribal Attorney Steve LeCuyer said Tuesday, “I have not seen the form of the agreement as it was approved by the school board last night.” However, he said, “The Tribe’s proposal contemplated that the tribe and school district would work together in developing local, customized materials for the Since Time Immemorial curriculum.”
La Conner Schools Supt. Tim Bruce on Monday said the district’s efforts to localize the state’s tribal curriculum have not gone unnoticed. He said La Conner has been contacted by other school districts in the region seeking advice on how to do it.

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