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Sunday, April 20, 2014

PSS eyes $37.8M budget for 2014

The Public School System endorsed to the Board of Education yesterday a budget proposal of $37.8 million for the next fiscal year, much larger than the current budget of just $31 million.

Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D., said the proposed budget highlights the need to restore 70 teaching positions that were cut by the previous Legislature.

She described the existing operation of public schools as “very stressful,” particularly in classrooms where large class sizes remain evident such as in Garapan Elementary School where 14 classrooms have as much as 32 students per teacher.

“We’re asking to restore the [positions] that were cut this fiscal year. PSS lost about 70 positions and we need them back. Right now, it’s very stressful and we commend our teachers and staff for their dedication. I am hoping the legislators will recognize the need to really change the status quo,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune during a break in yesterday’s board meeting.

The $37.8 million budget plan includes $31 million for personnel salary and benefits, $4 million for school utilities, a little over $1 million for school repairs and maintenance, and $2.5 million for all others.

However, even if PSS succeeds in securing this amount, this will still not allow the system to lift its stringent conservation policy, including the four-hour limit on air-conditioning, Sablan said.

“PSS conservation mode is set forever” at this time, she said, unless the system comes up with additional funds that will allow all-day AC consumption.

In fact, Sablan added, PSS is putting together its “Go Green” initiative that would include recycling, sharing and maximizing school resources, among other elements.

BOE chair Herman T. Guerrero tabled the proposed budget for further review. He said the board has to make sure that all justifications are reviewed and admitted that he still has some questions.

Among the factors that may impact the local budget request, he said, is the proposed minimum wage increase at the national level that will affect the CNMI educational system and its personnel.

Guerrero also cited the need to review all positions that will require funding in 2014 to ensure that this will address the ongoing overcrowding in classrooms.

Government agencies have until end of this month to submit their budget proposals for 2014 to the Office of Budget and Management, which will then consolidate the total budget for submission to the Legislature on April 1.

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