Leech Lake Government Slashes College Funding

Feb 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 20-3: Tribal Athletes Fight for Their Place, Tribal College News

In October, nearly three months into its fiscal year, Leech Lake Tribal College (LLTC, Cass Lake, MN) received notice that the Leech Lake Tribal Council had reduced its funding to the college by $500,000. College administrators said this came as a complete surprise since Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Archie LaRose had endorsed the college’s original budget appropriation just months earlier while serving as the band’s secretary/treasurer. LaRose is now the tribal chairman.

In the tribal newsletter, LaRose explained that he had instituted a government-wide direct funding reduction on programs of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Indians. “The country is now heading into a recession at the same time we are seeing increased food, heating, and fuel costs,” he said. He said that the tribal council required all divisions to make at least a 10% across the board cut, according to the article in DeBahJiMon November newsletter.

He said the tribe had provided $731,000 to the college. The chairman did not explain why the cut to the college’s funding was so much more than 10% of tribal funding. The tribe’s funding to the college was cut by $500,000 or 68%. LaRose did not respond to numerous calls from TCJ for explanation.

In response to the funding cut, LLTC Vice President of Operations Sharon Kotla (Leech Lake Band) said that having a half-million dollar cut from the tribal government, a quarter of the way into the fiscal year, made dealing with it “incredibly difficult.”

Tribal college officials say that nearly 30% of the college’s general fund budget ($2.6 million) for the current year came from the Leech Lake Band. General fund revenues pay for the college’s day-to-day operations, including salaries and benefits for staff and faculty members.

The dramatic drop in general fund dollars endangers grant funds because the general fund dollars are also used to leverage funds in many grant proposals. The college had procured nearly $4 million in grant funds annually. Grant funds represent the bulk of the total college budget, but they are restricted for use in specific programs and can not be used for operating funds or to pay most salaries.

The only option available to cover the unexpected $500,000 cut by the Leech Lake Tribal Council is to drastically reduce personnel costs, according to tribal college officials. Work hours and pay for up to 25 full-time employees were reduced from 40 hours to 32 hours per week. Employees impacted by the pay cuts include the college president Dr. Leah J. Carpenter, administrative assistants, and other support service personnel. “Having hours reduced will severely impact affected staff during these very tough economic times, and especially with the coming of the holiday season,” says Carpenter.

Tribal college administrators were trying to spare students from the impacts of the budget crisis by cutting as much as possible from administrative staff while leaving faculty as intact as possible. Carpenter says, “The college leadership team is working to ensure that the services to our students are preserved, and that students continue to have access to educational resources including the library, learning center, and tutoring services.”

However, the impact of an unexpected funding cut of this magnitude will not only affect the current status of the college but also its future, she says. The reduced capacity will likely mean that construction and other projects planned for the next year will have to be postponed indefinitely.

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