Three schools that teach Native American children in upstate New York are banding together, calling on the Hochul administration to allocate $60 million in capital funding for school buildings which are falling apart. 

The schools are the St. Regis Mohawk in the Salmon River Central School District, Onondaga Elementary in the Lafayette Central School District near Syracuse and Tuscarora Elementary in the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District near Buffalo. 

This story was first reported by North Country Public Radio.

“For six years, I’ve been advocating to the state and to the New York State Education Department that we need funding to modernize the buildings, update them so they’re safe, healthy, efficient, effective and can meet the demands of education for our students today and beyond,” said Dr. Stanley Harper, superintendent of the Salmon River Central School District, which includes the St. Regis Mohawk Primary School in Akwesasne.

According to Harper, his requests have fallen on deaf ears.

There is a quirk in the law when it comes to schools on Nation land. Instead of the school district, it’s the state of New York that owns the school buildings, so the state has total control over expenditures.

It’s a frustrating bureaucratic hurdle for superintendents like Harper.

“As a sitting superintendent, I have the ability to take a capital project, take it to the board to get approved, it goes to a referendum vote, and then in our particular district, I get 98% aided, the project is done and it’s bonded over 15 years,” Harper explained.  “But at the Nation schools, I have no mechanism to create or complete the capital projects that are desperately needed for these buildings that are about 100 years old and deteriorating constantly.”

One of the school buildings is located on the shore of a river that has started flooding on a regular basis.

“We had to evacuate 500 students and staff and put them over to our other elementary on the main campus,” Harper recalled. “We have pictures of people in boats in our parking lots; it’s a very unsafe environment.”

In an email to Capital Tonight, an administration spokesperson sent the same statement it sent to NCPR. “Governor Hochul is committed to ensuring quality education for every child in New York, and since becoming aware of the issues facing Native schools, we are looking into how best to address them during the budget process," it said.