Sherman Indian High School officials had hoped that Monday’s visit by two members of President Bush’s Cabinet would mean federal backing for the school’s innovative college preparatory program, including an additional $1.5 million that they say is needed for this and other urgent needs.
But what they got amounted to a federal pat on the back from Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr. and Secretary of Education Lauro Cavazos, who both urged that the school seek academic and financial support from sources in industry and local communities.
Principal Joe Frazier said he asked Lujan and Cavazos for additional funding for Sherman’s year-old college preparatory program, to raise teacher’s salaries and to help replace budget cuts of $20 per student per year imposed last year under the Reagan Administration. He said the school needs at least $1.5 million to achieve these goals.
“We asked them for more money,” said a disappointed Frazier. "(But) we’re going to have to look at our resources and obtain grants to upgrade our program and teacher’s salaries.”
Frazier established the college preparatory program at Sherman. The program, unique among the 194 Indian schools across the nation, puts Indian high school students in frequent contact with non-Indian students and classrooms at colleges and universities in the San Bernardino/Riverside area.
Assistant Principal Robert Loya was more blunt in his response to the message conveyed by Lujan and Cavazos, who are beginning a weeklong tour of four Indian schools in California, Arizona and New Mexico to collect information on programs that could be used nationwide.
“We went down the tubes with the Reagan Administration and now we expect nothing from the Bush Administration,” said Loya, who manages Sherman’s academic budget. “We’re just going to have to survive through this thing.”
Interior Department officials said the unprecedented visit by two Cabinet members to schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs reflects a new commitment to improved education for Indians shared by Bush, Lujan and Cavazos.
Nonetheless, Lujan indicated that Indian schools should not expect additional funding in the immediate future. Instead, he said Indian schools, which are often located on or near remote reservations, should try to work more closely with local public schools and colleges.
“I don’t believe that more money necessarily means better education,” Lujan said. “It doesn’t cost any more to interact with the Riverside public school system, you know, to exchange teachers, students, those things.”
Cavazos agreed and said, “What I like about this place is that there are lots of people contributing to the effort. . . . This is very unique.”
When asked by a reporter whether he supported higher salaries for teachers at Sherman, who earn about $8,000 a year less than teachers in Riverside’s public school system, Lujan laughed and said, “I think everybody ought to have higher salaries, even me.”
Lujan expressed surprise at complaints by Sherman administrators that recent budget cuts could hamper their ability to continue the programs he came here to praise.
“I’m not sure there have been budget cuts here,” Lujan said, “or that there is less money than there was the year before.”
Such statements angered some Sherman teachers who said they have had to do more with less funding in recent years.
“Money is the answer,” fumed Steve Tinling, who has taught mathematics at the school for eight years. Because of low salaries, “we have an enormously high turnover rate of teachers here. . . .”
Demonstrating to a reporter what he said was the need for better classroom supplies, Tinling said, “Here’s what I have to work with,” and held up a tattered algebra book as pages spilled out onto on a table.
Regional BIA officials agreed that Indian schools, including Sherman, need improvement.
“In terms of the programs we have, we are cognizant of the fact that we need more money,” said Peter Soto, education programs administrator for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Phoenix, which governs six federally funded schools including Sherman Indian High School. “But we are going to have to be resourceful to provide for programs such as those at Sherman.”