The Public School System is readying itself for a surge in its enrollment numbers once classes open in September due to the sluggish economy and the continued decline in private schools' enrollment, according to PSS federal programs officer Tim Thornburgh.
Thornburgh also admitted that PSS is faced with uncertainty if it will be able to hire all the classroom teachers it needs for its increasing number of students.
The number of student enrollment on all public schools has been climbing in the past three years. From over more than 10,000 in school year 2009-2010, PSS closed the last school year with a total student enrollment of 11,104.
“[We] are receiving reports of lower enrollment in private schools and this is one factor why we are anticipating an increase in student numbers in this [2012-2013] school year,” said Thornburgh. One of the oldest private schools on island, Calvary Christian Academy, recently shut down due to low enrollment numbers.
Thornburgh told Saipan Tribune that the possibility of a much-reduced budget for PSS this new fiscal year is another “situation” for the school district. The proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2013 that was filed last week in the House of Representatives recommends a $28 million budget for PSS. If the bill gets enacted, this will make it the lowest budget that PSS will receive in more than 20 years.
“If we will follow what's happening in the House, that they're decreasing [further] our budget, how can we get additional teachers and the workforce we need for our students?” Thornburgh asked.
The expected rise in enrollment numbers would require hiring more classroom teachers and other essential support staff at PSS.
The system maintains 19 elementary, junior, and high school campuses on Saipan, Tinian and Rota, on top of 10 Head Start facilities. It employs a little over 500 classroom teachers.
Thornburgh said the limited budget from the local government always prevents the system from getting enough number of teachers and support staff. PSS was allocated only $30 million this fiscal year. To balance its operation, PSS relocated its central offices to the Marianas High School campus; consolidated the Dr. Rita Hocog Inos Junior and High Schools; froze many positions, including that of teachers; and other measures to conserve resources and survive.
Last school year, PSS suspended all hiring due to the tight budget situation. It was last school year when the one-time $32.3 million state fiscal stabilization fund ended for the Public School System. A significant portion of these federal monies were used by PSS to hire and retain teachers while the bulk went to school renovations and repairs.
Thornburgh admitted that among the challenges now is how to retain these teachers in the light of a reduced budget proposal for public schools.