Hard Choices?

April 14, 2010

Nothing raises the dial on the disgust meter in me like elected officials who make excuses for failing to properly fund our public schools. Fitial was told by the U.S. Department of Education that he must minimally fund the PSS, or the CNMI risks losing its federal State Fiscal Stabilization Funds. The CNMI could also have to pay back $16 million in funds that were received in previous years.

The Marianas Variety reported:
Joseph C. Conaty, director for academic improvement and teacher quality programs of U.S. DOE, said the Fitial administration agreed to provide PSS with the fiscal year 2006 level of funding from fiscal years 2009 through 2011 as one of the conditions for receiving the SFSF.

“I want to reiterate the serious consequences articulated in the March 30, 2010 teleconference. If the department determines through monitoring or an audit that the CNMI is failing to meet its fiscal obligations, including failing to meet the [Maintenance of Effort, or] MOE, waiver requirement, it will take appropriate enforcement actions against CNMI,” Conaty wrote to Fitial on April 12.

“Such actions may include, among other things, the disapproval of your application for SFSF phase two funding or the recovery of SFSF funds previously awarded to the CNMI. Any action that reduces the percentage of total non-federal revenues spent on education in FY 2010 below 26.68 percent spent in 2009 makes CNMI ineligible for an MOE waiver and jeopardizes its entire SFSF allocation,” he added.

PSS was budgeted for $37.2 million in FY 2006. This went down to $36 million in FY 2008 and to $32.491 million in FY 2010 under the continuing budget resolution.

PSS said the actual budget it received for FY 2010 was $31.4 million only.

...“I do not underestimate the current fiscal challenges and pressures that exist in the CNMI and around the country. Many difficult and hard choices must be made. However, it is our joint responsibility to support a high quality education for every child that prepares them to succeed in college and the workplace in order to ensure our nation’s future prosperity,” Conaty added.
Children should always be a priority. It shouldn't be a hard choice. Talk of austerity through HB 17-45 or through constant threats is truly just plain garbage when the same governor can find the funds to pay $50,000 a month for Washington, DC attorneys to sue the feds in an ill-conceived lawsuit. Again, I ask, are Jenner and Block still on retainer? Just how much money was burned in that ill-conceived lawsuit?

It is ridiculous to push austerity measures and talk of slashing public education funding when the same governor has a special legal counsel, special assistant for political affairs, and a special assistant for programs and legislative review, and special assistant for public liaison on the payroll. (Why are these positions labeled "special" anyway? Does "special" mean unnecessary?) There are other "special" people receiving dollars from the governor's office also such as Lynn Knight referred to by Fitial as his "communications liaison."

Currently the CNMI is paying for two presidents at NMC. It was reported that Dr. Carmen Fernandez was allowed to write her own contract, which was favorable to her to the detriment of NMC. That makes absolutely no fiscal sense.

At a public hearing held last evening at the Kagman Community Center teachers and administrators protested the austerity bill. From the Variety:
Angie Wheat, a fourth grade teacher from Kagman Elementary School, described the inclusion of PSS in the work reduction measure as “ridiculous.”

A teacher for 31 years, Wheat said PSS has already cut back expenses but the education of children should not be taken for granted.

“We are trying to educate all of the potential leaders of the CNMI. We want them to feel like there’s something to come back for,” she said.

Another teacher said her salary was already reduced because she failed to pass one of the two required Praxis tests. If her salary is further reduced, she said it will be very difficult for her because she still supports her jobless and diabetic husband and their children.

Blanco-Maratita said the issue is about investing in the future of the CNMI.

“It goes beyond wages and money. This issue is about PSS’ commitment to provide quality education,” she said.
Education Commissioner Rita Sablan pointed out that Hawaii lost $15 million in federal grants because the state furloughed teachers.

The Variety reported that a majority of the senators pledged to kill the austerity bill.

Congressman Sablan Pushes for CNMI Title I Funds
Meanwhile, Congressman Gregorio (Kilili) Sablan vowed to fight to ensure that the CNMI receives "state-like treatment" in receiving Title I funds. The money is used to fund schools with a high level percentage of students from low-income families and Mr. Sablan wants the CNMI to be on an equal playing field with the states.

From the Marianas Variety:
“Title 1 is the main source of funding in education under the law but right now, what we get is a ‘set-aside’ that gives us much less funding on a per-student basis than if we were under the formula used for the states,” Sablan said.

“If we cannot get a state-like treatment under Title 1, we should still get a corresponding increased funding as if we were, because our students deserve better” he added.

..."Again, it is a question of giving territories the same opportunities as the states, and I will be fighting year in and year out in Congress to ensure the CNMI will get its share,” Sablan said.

He has proposed an entirely new federal program to attract and retain teachers in remote areas of the country, like the CNMI or like rural Montana.

"The program provides incentives similar to those that bring doctors to remote areas, student loan forgiveness, help with relocation costs and more for continuing education and earn advanced degrees, both for new recruits and for our teachers who are already working in the Northern Marianas,” Sablan said.
It's good to know someone who sits on the House Committee on Education and Labor is looking out for the students and public education.


Anonymous said...

The CNMI should be happy to receive any funding at all. As a welfare state, the CNMI leaches valuable resources from federal funds while paying nothing into the system. Federal funds that are held in limbo fail to be spent as the locals have not figure out how to siphon it into their own pockets.

Anonymous said...

Too bad DOE and PSS can't print money for the CNMI. That is the ultimate issue in the "maintenance of effort" brouhaha.

The CNMI will qualify for a waiver, despite DOE and PSS efforts to the contrary and sordid efforts to pin political blame on Fitial.

President Obama and the federal courts would not allow DOE and PSS to push the CNMI into insolvency.

With revenue declines of this magnitude, none of the branches, autonomous agencies, or departments are sacrosanct, including judiciary, PSS, and DPS.

We're all in this together! Stop trying to foist the pain on others, and feather your own nests or lard your pet favorite sacred cows/pigs, as the case may be.