Education officials told lawmakers yesterday morning that some public schools could end up having “double sessions” if the Public School System fails to fill all vacant teacher positions for not receiving at least a $33 million budget for fiscal year 2013.
Marianas High School, for example, is projected to have a student-teacher ratio of 45:1 and Hopwood Junior High School, 33:1.
Visiting U.S. Department of Education senior risk management consultant Christine Jackson, who also met with lawmakers yesterday, said a 45:1 student-teacher ratio is egregious.
She said the ideal student-teacher ratio is 20:1.
“So anything above 20 or 25, we're talking about a compromised situation. Even with the best teacher who can manage a classroom, 45 is a lot of students, unless you have a teacher aide,” Jackson told reporters after a meeting with members of the House Committee on Education on Capital Hill.
Along with Jackson were USDOE senior risk and systems consultant Mark W. Robinson, CNMI Education Commissioner Dr. Rita Sablan, Board of Education chair Marylou Ada, and other PSS and BOE officials.
Sablan brought up the idea of “double session” with House members during discussion of PSS's proposed budget of $33 million for FY 2013
A double session means that teachers will teach in the morning and in the afternoon to accommodate students for both sessions.
Sablan said this is not an ideal situation, reiterating that a $33-million budget for PSS could prevent a double session.
“It's really incumbent upon passage of the budget for fiscal year 2013 so we're here, asking them to please give us the $33 million which will comply with the requirements of the maintenance of efforts. It will also allow us to put back all these positions that were vacated recently due to people relocating, resigning for retirement, or what not,” she said.
The $114-million budget bill for FY 2013 is still with the Senate.
For PSS alone, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial proposed a budget of $29.5 million, much less than PSS' proposal of $40 million. But the House further cut the governor's PSS budget proposal to $28 million. There's no telling yet how much the Senate will give PSS.
At MHS, there are at least eight vacant teacher positions. At Hopwood Junior High School, about five, and about four at Kagman, where classes are very large.
Jackson said having a double session or not is the decision of PSS.
“Now whether a double session is going to work or not, sounds like a temporary fix. But if they can maximize the time that students are in the classroom whatever [academic] time that is. then it should meet the needs until they fix their budget issue,” she said.
Jackson said the CNMI PSS maintains an impressive performance, although she said one of the red flags is a late audit.
“Right now you're late, that's why we've said it's a red flag. It doesn't mean you are going to be put on high risk. It's not a main issue right now because other things are in place but that is one of the indicators that put in the high risk in the beginning,” she said.
Sablan said it is the whole CNMI that is late with the audit, and not only PSS. She said this has been addressed to the proper agency, hoping the latest audit will be released this month.
The education commissioner said besides leveraging PSS resources, the agency is looking at beefing up its student online program which now has some 500 students registered as of Friday.