- Published on Thursday, August 09, 2012 00:00
- Written by By Kevin G. Bautista - Variety News Staff
- Hits: 576
The main issue raised by PSS to the senators was their disapproval of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s budget submission of only $29.5 million for PSS, and the budget proposal recently passed by the House, which only allocated $28.6 million, a decrease of $936,194 from the governor’s submission.
“What concerns me is how it got to that level. The fiscal year 2013 budget is projected at $114 million. The Maintenance of Effort is 28.92 percent of the local budget. If we calculate that percentage against the $114 million, that should give PSS about $33 million to meet the MOE,” Sablan told reporters.
The Maintenance of Effort is a federal requirement that requires grant recipients and sub-recipients to maintain a certain level of state or local fiscal effort to be eligible for full participation in federal grant funding. Grant recipients or sub-recipients not meeting the MOE requirements face loss of a portion of their federal funds.
Sablan said she is asking the Senate to allocate the amount in order to fulfill those requirements mandated by the MOE.
She also added that the amount is needed to fill vacant positions that are needed for the opening of school year 2012-2013.
“We’re looking at 145 full-time employees that have left the system for personal reasons. It’s a huge number, and we’re talking about maintenance, support staff in the office, counselors, school administrators, vice principals, and approximately 80 teachers to hire,” she said.
Sablan also informed the senators that if they were to stay with the budget proposal of $28 million, there will be an increase in the student-to-teacher ratio to as much as 43 students to one teacher due to the system’s inability to hire more teachers.
“It worries me. We talk about safety, learning, and discipline, but how can one teacher oversee 43 students over a six hour period? Nowadays, the average class size of 25 to 30 is about right, but if you go above that, it gets very difficult. We need to hire and fill those vacant positions, but we won’t be able to do that if they don’t give us the amount we are asking,” she said.
When asked what would happen if PSS doesn’t meet the MOE, the commissioner said three consequences would happen: (1) the CNMI government would be placed under a “risked status,” (2) grants would be reduced significantly, and (3) future grants will be affected.
According to Sablan, a “risked status” is similar to a probation status.
“When you’re placed on a ‘risked status,’ you’re limited on how funds are implemented. There’s going to be someone watching over you to make sure that you’re doing things right. Accreditation is also determined if PSS is financially stable. You have to do the effort. Everyone must really work hard. We have to invest our money in the right place for our kids,” she said.
Sablan added that she is confident that the Senate will make the appropriate adjustments to the budget for PSS.
“I hope that what we shared with the two senators today will be taken into account, but it’s not just them who will vote on it. I hope the Senate will vote for the increase of the PSS budget for fiscal year 2013.”
However, Taimanao said she is not going to guarantee any significant increase to the PSS budget.
“The MOE requires a 28.92 percent contribution of local funds, but I don’t have any commitment because every agency and department also requests a ‘wish list’ budget. However, we will do our very best to meet PSS’s request,” she told reporters.
She emphasized that giving into the raise would require a crippling of one agency or department.
“We will try our very best to meet their request. If we cannot give them the full $33 million, then we can meet them more than halfway at about $30 million.”
For his part, Reyes, who heads the education committee, stressed during the meeting that satisfying the MOE is an important priority for the government.
“We would hate to see grants subject to recall by the federal government because we did not meet the requirements of the MOE. We should work to avoid this crisis situation,” he said.
Both Taimanao and Reyes told the PSS panel that education must be a priority for all elected officials.
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