House panel told: PSS needs urgent financial support

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THE House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on Monday morning to discuss the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal of the Public School System.

Chaired by Rep. Ivan A. Blanco, the  committee met with Board of Education Chairwoman Janice P. Tenorio, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred B. Ada, Associate Commissioner for Administrative Services Kimo Rosario,  PSS-Federal Programs Officer Tim Thornburgh, and several members of the PSS administrative team.

“Even under the uncertainties that took place in the past three months, PSS continues to provide uninterrupted learning opportunities,” Ada said. “The school system needs urgent financial support. In the wake of the Covid-19, the outlook for our Public School System is bleak.”

He added, “PSS, like many other school districts in the nation, sits in a very different or unique situation as a non-revenue-generating group in our society, in any society.”

He said PSS relies directly and solely on public funds to provide public education.

“It is critical that we invest more funds for the public school students’ learning. It is critical that we sustain and give our absolute commitment and support…. While we acknowledge [the] coronavirus pandemic, let us not be sidetracked —  public education needs support. Covid-19 makes PSS particularly vulnerable. Let us all come together to help PSS rebuild and start to reopen under a different environment,” Ada said.

He added that PSS teachers have been placed under a 64-hour work week.


Education officials met with the House Standing Committee on Ways and Means on Monday in the House chamber to discuss the FY 2021 budget proposed by the Public School System. Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

“To be honest about it, it equates to shortchanging our students. We understand that the coronavirus pandemic has altered and changed [the educational system in] its entirety, but shortchanging the teachers means we shortchange the students, and when we shortchange the students, we shortchange the future of the CNMI. But it does not and should not translate to underfunding public education,” he said.

He added, “The stakes are much higher now… We are in a very unfortunate situation, but this is not the time to shortchange public education.”

According to the budget submission by the administration, PSS requested a $40.6 million budget for FY 2021. The administration, for its part, proposed $20.5 million only.

Ada said PSS is hoping to get at least $25 million.

PSS teachers, he added, will be required to participate in professional development to adjust and adapt to “the new norm” when the new school year begins.

He said PSS is still researching and will have continuing discussions on developmentally age-appropriate methods of instruction for all of its students, including those with the early childhood education and special education programs.

PSS is also seeking the help of parents in continuing the students’ education at home, especially with respect to remote or online student learning, Ada said.

Thornburgh highlighted  Kagman Elementary School as a “preview” of how all public schools will look like, with thermal scanners, regular disinfection of footwear and classrooms, and appropriate spacing between seats in classrooms.


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