Seattle Schools Blunders Again in Applying for Federal Funds for Native American Students

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The district still doesn't know how many Native American students it has.
Seattle Public Schools owned up to a big blunder in March when it revealed that it had submitted misinformation on federal grant applications for a program serving Native American students--and would consequently have to return $300,000. For two years running, the program claimed to have three times as many Native American students as it really had (or at least as it could prove it had with documents showing the tribal status of students or their family members.)

Now, the district is admitting that it made another bad error when applying for that same grant this year. Actually, the district didn't apply at all because it missed the February 12 deadline. Consequently, the district is losing out on the chance to get $82,000 in federal funding next year for the "Huchoosedah Indian Education Program."

Seattle Schools spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins says the district will use $82,000 of its own money to make up the difference, even though the district faces a $31 million budget gap. Still, parents are questioning whether anyone has been held accountable for such a stunning display of ineptitude.

"He blew it," says parent Sarah Sense-Wilson, referring to Huchoosedah's director, Arlie Neskahi, who was responsible for submitting the grant application. She says he told parents he had been tripped up by computer problems. While Neskahi was not responsible for the earlier errors--he assumed his position just this November--Sense-Wilson says that a parent and community group she's part of, called the American Indian Alaska Native American Alliance, has submitted a letter calling for Neskahi to be fired.

The grant that the district missed out on was just one source of federal and state funding for the program, which will have a $300,000 budget next year.

But Sense-Wilson says there was more than $82,000 at stake. If the program had aggressively sought tribal documentation for all of the 1,100 students in the program this year, she says, it might have been able to apply for more federal funds. Instead, the district still has documentation for only 385 of the students.

She also sees the missed deadline as symptomatic of broader mismanagement of the program, which she says has failed to engage parents and cut back on academic tutoring.

Neskahi could not be reached immediately for comment. Spencer-Watkins says she is not at liberty to discuss matters of employee discipline and so cannot say whether the district has reprimanded Neskahi or his supervisor, both of whom remain on the job.

Spencer-Watkins adds that the district has taken measures to ensure that the mistakes of the past don't happen again, including having an internal auditor regularly review the program.

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