Even with its own financial difficulty, the Public School System remains committed in finding ways to ensure that the welfare and benefits of its employees are prioritized, along with the delivery of quality education to its over 10,000 students.
This, as late Thursday PSS paid its employee share owed to the NMI Retirement Fund, in the amount of close to $1.1 million. The payment makes the school system's contribution current for all its employees.
While it is now current with its employee contribution, PSS' next step is finding a long-term solution with its employer contribution-another essential issue that education leaders and policymakers have been focused with for years now, through series of discussions with Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos and key NMI finance and Fund officials.
It can be noted that the central government has yet to funnel $10.3 million to PSS representing “unremitted” prior year earmarkings and or receivables, and the Maintenance of Effort. The MOE is a federal requirement mandating that a certain percentage of the NMI government budget be allocated to public education as required by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provide impact aid grants that are designed to stimulate the economy and jump start school reform efforts. The ARRA grants are one-time school improvement grants that improve teaching and learning by saving and creating teacher jobs, repairing school facilities and by infusing technology upgrades in our classrooms such as computers, smart boards, etc. for student and teacher use both at school and at home.
The Education Stabilization Fund as developed by the PSS at $32.3 million for the PSS and $4 million for the NMC for a total of $36.3 million is the largest federal grant ever received in the CNMI. The PSS share of the grant, $32.3 million, is being used for the following purposes: $14.9 million to support 180 teaching staff across two years; $11.7 million for repairs, renovations and school modernization; $ 2.5 million for Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs; $ 1.8 million for Utilities; $1.7 million for the one laptop per child initiative, and $700,000 for program administration.
In PSS standpoint, it remains open and ready to continue discussing viable options that could address the funding shortage for public education with the central government, optimistic that the outcome will finally address its share of employer contribution to the Retirement Fund.
“We have been finding amicable ways as we move forward with our discussions with Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos and Finance Secretary Larissa Larson who both have been receptive with our effort to address our concerns,” acting education commissioner Charley Kentey said.
He added, “We have been acting in good faith as we try our very best to ensure that we are current with our obligations, reflective of the fact that like them (Fund) and any other government entity/agency, we at PSS, are also facing financial challenges.”
PSS is a non-revenue generating entity that relies on government funding to meet its constitutional mandate of providing education and other essential services that includes, among others, free transportation and free meals, to the Commonwealth more than 10,000 students attending 20 public elementary, junior, and high school campuses on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. It also provides services to pre-school children under the Head Start Program spread across 10 centers, and the Special Education and Early Intervention Programs.
But in the last 10 years, when the economy began to tip, funding on essential government services including PSS has been impacted-yet the school district's ability to provide its constitutional mandate to its stakeholders: students, parents, and its personnel have been unhinged.
In essence, to prevent the impact of being felt in the classrooms, PSS initiated its own internal funding controls including series of cost-cutting efforts to buffer the funding shortfall.
Worth noting, on the other hand, is that the current fiscal year's budget for PSS, at $31 million, is the lowest earmarking for public education since fiscal 2000. (PSS)