Officials at cash-strapped Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District are pondering how to spend $1 million a year that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is to contribute to the district for 20 years.
"Number one is the kids," said school board member Andrew Longmire. "We get that money so that the students of the school district improve their educational experience."
The donation, one of the terms of the tribe's $251 million revenue-sharing deal with Rohnert Park, doesn't begin until July 2014, the start of the district's next fiscal year.
The sum represents a tiny fraction of the district's $45 million general fund, but its use is unrestricted, unlike much state funding that is earmarked for specific purposes like salaries and maintenance. It also is equal to a third of the district's current deficit.
"Even a tenth of that is a big help to us," said Longmire.
"There have been no discussions about what it will be used for," said district Superintendent Robert Haley, but "those funds could support many of the innovative programs and initiatives that we have."
A committee of two tribal representatives, two district representatives and a fifth member chosen by the others is to decide how the funds are to be used.
That committee is not formed yet, but Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris said this week that two Tribal Council members, Jeannette Anglin and Robert Baguio, will represent the tribe.
Anglin is a retired longtime Santa Rosa schools administrator. Baguio was a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy and Santa Rosa police officer, and later a casino manager.
It would be "premature" to speculate on what the committee will lean toward, Sarris said, but "my own preference, the thing I'm very concerned about, is to make all students, particularly underprivileged and under-prepared students, college-ready."
"One thing I will certainly advocate is for summer bridge-type programs to catch them up and prepare them," said Sarris, a professor at Sonoma State University who previously taught at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University.
Already there appears to be some agreement that the donation should not help close the budget gap.
"That's a systemic problem," said board President Marc Orloff. "I'm not sure that would be an appropriate use for the money coming from the tribe."
"It's supposed to be for education," Sarris said.
One key factor, Orloff said, will be where the county's third-largest school district finds itself financially next year. It has cut school days and professional development hours, increased class sizes and then in some grades lowered them, slashed teacher pay and closed schools to tackle ongoing budget crises.
But last month the district got a shot in the arm when the board voted to reopen two schools, one in partnership with SSU.
"I don't know what position we'll be in in a year, We're working budget-to-budget," Orloff said.
And, he said, "I don't really know what the tribe would be looking to influence. After all, it is money coming from them. It would be important to hear them out as to where they think it should be going and be spent."
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.