Cotati-Rohnert Park schools ponder annual $1 million tribal donation

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."

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