Insurance Settlement Reached To Save S.D. Tribal School

May 4, 2006

The future of the Crow Creek Tribal School in South Dakota has been assured because a settlement has been reached with an insurance company for the fire that destroyed the student dormitory a year ago, officials said.

Gov. Mike Rounds and Crow Creek Superintendent Scott Raue had said earlier the school for American Indian students was in danger of closing unless it received money from its insurance claim.

Raue and South Dakota Associated School Boards lawyer Dick Tieszen negotiated a settlement with St. Paul Travelers during a meeting in Chicago.

Tieszen said the terms of the settlement cannot be disclosed, but the deal will provide the school with sufficient money to guarantee its future.

“All I can tell you is we are happy with what we were able to resolve,” Tieszen said.

Tieszen and others said the agreement was possible because Rounds helped set up the meeting between school officials and representatives of St. Paul Travelers.

Rounds said St. Paul Travelers has an excellent reputation, and the company’s executives wanted to resolve the dispute. He said an agreement could be reached once the two sides met face to face.

Officials have said the school, run by the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in central South Dakota, used its own money to build temporary dormitory buildings and a kitchen area so the middle school and high school at Stephan could operate this year. The school money was spent in anticipation of getting the insurance settlement, they said.

“It comes down to the fact we were able to provide safety, security, food and a great education for the kids at Crow Creek,” Raue said.

Raue said the school was close to being unable to meet its payroll.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Chairman Lester Thompson said creditors need to be thanked for their patience. The school system has 600 students, with about 400 in the middle school and high school in Stephan. More than 200 live in the new temporary dorms built in Stephan.

Thompson said students would have been in trouble if they had to travel to other districts to attend school. He said the agreement means the school’s 220 teachers and other staff will get paid.

“I’m just very glad this situation is done and has been resolved,” said Thompson, who was in his first day as the tribe’s new chairman.

Investigators could not determine the cause of the April 2005 fire, but they said it was not deliberately set.

Officials have said the school’s total loss from the fire amounted to about $4.5 million. The Bureau of Indian Affairs provided $1.3 million to help build the temporary dorms so classes could open last fall, and the school has received some other help, including about $400,000 from the state.

Officials said earlier that St. Paul Travelers had advanced some money to the school, but they believed the school was still short about $2.6 million.

The school was insured for extra expenses and lost income through a program in which many South Dakota schools join together to insure themselves. Money from those schools is used to cover small losses. But the program, run by the South Dakota Associated School Boards, buys insurance from St. Paul Travelers to cover large losses.

Crow Creek has been ninth on the Bureau of Indian Affair’s national school construction list, and the Crow Creek project is estimated to cost $30 million to $40 million. Raue said he hopes the process can be sped up so the new school buildings can be constructed in the next few years.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., issued a written statement saying he has asked the BIA to use $3 million that was returned from another tribe and use the money for construction at the Crow Creek school. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe returned the money because the funds were obtained with the help of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Johnson said.

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