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Sunday, April 20, 2014

PSS asks for $40M for 2014

The Board of Education has approved the submission of a revised proposal seeking a $40-million budget for public schools next fiscal year.

This is an increase from the $37.8 million that the fiscal personnel affairs committee earlier recommended.

PSS consultant Ed Tenorio said during the Wednesday board meeting that the new budget plan intends to restore nearly 100 positions—mostly classroom teachers, counselors, and program staffers.

The proposal was submitted yesterday to the Office of Budget and Management, which is consolidating all budget requests of government agencies for submission to the Legislature by April 1.

PSS’ $40-million request is broken down into $31.5 million for personnel costs, including benefits; $3.6 million for operation and all others; $1 million for school repairs; $4.3 million for utilities; and $50,000 for the Board of Education’s budget.

On Feb. 14, the FPA committee endorsed a budget proposal of $37.8 million, with 70 teaching positions to be restored.

According to Tenorio, the additional $2.2 million under the revised budget is needed in order to restore other critical positions such as counselors, program managers, and key support staff.

If the $40-million request is approved, that will mean all schools on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota will have their own counselors next school year, according to Education Commissioner Rita A. Sablan, Ed.D.

Some schools currently do not have either vice principals or counselors due to budget constraints.

Also considered in the proposal is a separate line-item amount for pupil transportation after PSS lost the authority to handle U.S. Federal Transportation Authority grants. That is now being handled by the local FTA office in the CNMI. These grants fund school buses, vans, and maintenance costs.

Tenorio disclosed that the revised proposal also includes a “very slight” salary adjustment for PSS staff who are earning below $10,000 per annum. “They’re now just a bit beyond the minimum wage [rate of $5.05 an hour].”

The adjustment will boost these employees’ wages to $11,631 per annum next fiscal year.

PSS is, however, unable to adjust the wages and salaries of other personnel, Tenorio said, due to the impact of “sequestration” on federal funds for the system.

Also, even if PSS succeeds in securing $40 million for next fiscal year, it will still not lift its across-the-board conservation policy, Sablan said.

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