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Last updateSat, 21 Sep 2019 12am

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    Friday, September 20, 2019-2:56:49P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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NMI government owes PSS $11.5 million

THE central government has yet to remit $11.5 million to the Public School System, the agency’s Finance Director Christopher Ching said in a report to the Board of Education’s fiscal, personnel and administration committee, which met on Thursday.

Public Law 20-67, the 2019 appropriations measure, allotted $42.8 million for PSS. But because of the revenue shortfall, the PSS budget was reduced to $35.36 million or by $7.5 million.

To date, the central government has remitted$23.85 million to PSS. Fiscal year 2019 ends on Sept. 30, 2019.

“It is very difficult to operate schools with only $23 million,” Education Commissioner Glenn Muna said, adding that “it was very challenging for us trying to keep the ‘ship floating’ when the money is not coming in.”

He added, “It is very hard to continue the day-to-day operations. We have a lot of obligations to take care of.”

As a result of the $7.5 million budget cut, Muna said PSS is not hiring new personnel.

On June 19, 2019, with the approval of the BOE, PSS cut by 50 percent the salary increases provided by a compensation plan that took effect on Oct. 1, 2017.

About 660 PSS employees were affected by the cut.

Muna said he has been reaching out to lawmakers and Finance Secretary David Atalig.

“Considering that we have a little time left [before the start of the new school year], I think we really need everyone to actively pursue getting that $11.5 million,” he told BOE Chairwoman Janice Tenorio, Vice Chairman Herman Atalig and Ada during the committee meeting on Thursday.

The Board of Education’s fiscal, personnel and administration committee chaired by MaryLou Ada met on Thursday.  Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio The Board of Education’s fiscal, personnel and administration committee chaired by MaryLou Ada met on Thursday. Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

Muna said PSS has to be mindful of the expenses and the obligations involved when classes resume on Sept. 3, 2019.

For example, he said, “when we transport students, that is money, and not only for fuel. We are running double sessions, which means our bus drivers are working longer hours — that is overtime. We also have other obligations, like utility bills.”

Muna noted that K-to-12 education is constitutionally mandated. “We know [the condition] of the economy…but we need to be mindful of ensuring that we fund public education, at least, at the bare minimum.”

He said the $23 million budget is the lowest in PSS history. “It is not the bare minimum. That is below [the bare minimum]. That is underfunding public education.”

There are also “severe repercussions” if PSS incurs a deficit, he added. “We cannot afford to be a high risk [federal grantee],” he said.

“We are trying not to go into deficit. But we need to make sure that the money gets transferred to us,” he added.

The central government, he said, is transferring whatever it can to PSS but it’s “barely enough to meet payroll.”

Asked for comment, the administration said it “can only transfer the resources we have on-hand. Currently, the central government does not have the cash to transfer. When new revenue and tax collections come in, Finance remits these amounts to the appropriate agencies and functions. We are doing our very best to transfer what we can. For the last several pay periods, we have increased our transfers, and Finance understands the obligations to PSS and the other departments.”

To be clear, the administration added, “the funding the central government has received from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] are specifically obligated for rebuilding and resiliency projects. They can only be spent for those projects, and that’s being done in collaboration with FEMA, the agencies involved, including PSS, and our Public Assistance Team.”

The secretary of Finance is working with the Marianas Public Land Trust and the Attorney General’s Office on the $15 million loan agreement, the administration said. “This would help alleviate our financial issues moving forward, as the economy continues to improve steadily.”