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Warm Springs school referendum is a win


At 9:30 Wednesday morning, the Warm Springs Tribal Council certified the election, and a new school is on its way.

The council asked a huge question to its members: Should the tribes seek a $10.7 million loan that they will have to pay back over years?

The final vote: 816 yes to 240 no.

It’s a $21 million building, and the Jefferson County School District will pay for half of it, as its voters approved in May.

The signs are everywhere in Warm Springs, on cars and inside and outside of buildings: Vote for the Warm Springs referendum.

“Message was, ‘Vote yes or no, but please vote,” said Urbana Ross, chief operations officer for the Warm Springs tribes.

A similar referendum received overwhelming support in May, but not enough tribal members voted.

This time it did, through the efforts of the tribal councilors and the community.

“We got the vote this time around, and we were able to pass it,” said Charles Calica, the Warm Springs Tribes’ CEO, who goes by Jody.

Calica also was an educator for 20 years, so Wednesday’s news was inspiring.

“It’s hope,” Jody said. “It’s inspiration. It’s hard to describe.”

The new school would replace the existing K-5 school that has been in need of some upgrades and is located right on the bank of a four mile grade.

“So you got trucks ramping up to go up the grade,” Jody said. “And then you got their air brakes coming down the grade, so its pretty distracting.”

Jody said it’s an old school facility, dating back to the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school days, three or four generations of buildings with modular units.

“It’s not the best, most conducive environment for learning,” Jody said.

The new 80,000-square-foot school will be located off Chucker Road.

“Education was my top priority,” Ross said.

Members thank Ross for helping get people to the polls.

“The conversations are happening in homes about education and the importance of it,” Ross said. “Even in those families that don’t talk about it, they’re talking about it now. We need to get out there and educate the community that Warm Springs is involved in education, we do care and our kids do want to attend school.”

Now the tribe has to put together all the legal documents, finances and agreements between the tribe and the school district to make what tribal councilors call “a dream” a reality by 2014.

One of the biggest questions people had about the vote was how the tribe was going to afford it.

Calica said they have opportunities through some investment funds they used to relocate the casino, and also are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a loan guarantee.

Two banks are already talking to the tribe about backing such a loan.

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