Public School System federal programs officer Tim Thornburgh said the CNMI may stop sending students to off-island and national academic and non-academic competitions.
This after the U.S. Department of Education said it is planning to eliminate the travel item in the consolidated grant for next fiscal year.
Thornburgh, along with Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan, reported to the Board of Education's fiscal and personnel affairs committee that PSS received notification from USDOE requesting the submission of a revised consolidated grant application for FY 2013.
The consolidated grant is one of the regular grants PSS receives each year from USDOE amounting to $8.4 million for FY 2013.
The students' travel for inter-island and national competitions, along with travels of principals and PSS officials for their meetings and professional development, are being funded through this regular grant.
Thornburgh disclosed to the committee that each fiscal year, travel for students' competitions both for inter-island and national contests has a budget of $400,000. Among these competitions are mock trial, forensic leagues, congressional mock trial, math court, spelling bee, academic challenge, JROTC competitions, science fair, thespian festival, among others.
Thornburgh said that for many years, the consolidated grant has funded several school competitions from regional level to national contest. CNMI students have been victorious to these many events that brought honor to the Commonwealth.
Thornburgh disclosed that besides the “travel” item in the consolidated grant, USDOE also wants to reduce school districts' budget for promotional items in an effort to reduce the national deficit. Example of these promotional school items are T-shirts, cups, and others.
The students competition, Thornburgh said, is obviously will be the most affected area because PSS, with the current local funding, has no capability to send teams for national events without some travel allocation.
The PSS budget from the CNMI government, according to education officials, is not even enough to cover the system's personnel cost and operation. The federal grants received every year supplement the shortfall of the local budget.
Worried on the big impact of this plan of the USDOE, board members have requested Sablan and Thornburgh to seek “clarification” and guidance on the issue.
According to board member Herman T. Guerrero, the plan would only mean that PSS will rely on video and teleconferences to conduct meetings and must think of creative ways to continue send delegates to national competitions.
Compared to other school districts such as Hawaii and Alaska, Thornburgh described the impact to the CNMI as “same difficulty in a lesser degree.”
Board member Lucy Blanco-Maratita, meantime, recommended that PSS seek the assistance of U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan on the matter.
Saipan Tribune learned that the matter is now under negotiation with the USDOE.