Even as the Public School Systems celebrates 25 years of autonomy this month, Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan laments the system’s ever-shrinking budget and even bemoaned that its 15-percent share of total government earmarks is no longer enough to sustain PSS and, in fact, has become the ceiling.
“Government revenues have gone down. Years back when the revenue was $200 million it was OK. But now that the level has gone down to $120 million, the 15 percent of $120 million is a little bit difficult for us [to work with],” Sablan said in an interview with Saipan Tribune following yesterday’s Education Day Proclamation Signing and Awards Recognition at the Board of Education conference room in Susupe.
Sablan said her office and the BOE have long fretted about the dwindling government revenue, which in turn has resulted in PSS getting smaller budgets for several years.
“The board and I have discussed this and it’s something that is a concern to us because you know we don’t want the 15 percent to be the ceiling. It’s something that needs to be reviewed so we can continue to support public education through the funds that are needed,” she said.
Despite this, Sablan said there’s still a lot to celebrate, as PSS commemorates 25 years of public education this year.
“I remember back in 1988 when this public law was passed, one of the reasons was to get the autonomy of the Public School System through the State Board of Education and I believe that was really an exceptional move,” she said.
Sablan was alluding to Public Law 6-10, which was signed on Oct. 25, 1998. It repealed P.L. 3-43 and set in motion the former Department of Education’s expansion, growth, and progress to what is now known as the CNMI Public School System.
“Over the years we’ve seen tremendous accomplishments and achievements with the State Board of Education taking a lead role in making sure that decisions are made for our children in the public school system,” she said.
For Education Month this October, Sablan said that PSS and BOE have lined up five weeks of celebration that honors and recognizes public education in the CNMI.
“Today marks the beginning of that public education. We had Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, State Board of Education chair Herman Guerrero all signing the proclamation, which is very historic. Normally you don’t see three people signing a proclamation.”
This year’s celebration will have the theme “Embracing Differences, Enlightening Minds, and Inspiring Greatness.”
For the first week of Education Month, Sablan is urging everyone to honk their car horns for education. The second week will be Spirit Week where PSS and BOE will be highlighting not only the profession of teaching but also other careers within the PSS such as school counselor, administration, and related services.
The third week will have Takeover Day. Sablan is inviting parents and volunteers to come out and take over their campuses and “spend a few hours in our classroom, working with our students and helping them.”
Week 4 is all about Education Day with PSS and BOE and celebrating one specific day to give recognition and honor to the staff. Oct. 22 will be Rota’s Education Day, Oct. 24 is Tinian’s, and Oct. 25 will be Saipan’s turn to commemorate Education Day.
Oct. 25 coincidentally is the actual 25th anniversary of public education, Sablan said.
The final week of Education Month is all about promoting individual schools and PSS programs.
“We’re excited about the things we’ve lined up and we hope that everybody will come out and join us celebrate public education in the Commonwealth,” she said.
BOE chair Guerrero said this month is a good time to remember why the then-Department of Education wanted autonomy from the central government in the first place.
“The whole idea of becoming an autonomous agency…was to remove political interference. It seems like every governor that has come in had his own agenda and also the Legislature has its own pet projects in terms of education.
“So the whole idea was to remove it from politics and that’s basically what the constitutional amendment did. When you remove politics you have nonpartisan board members who work with the commissioner to move public education forward and education has been transformed. Compared to what it used to be, we’re more accountable, more transparent, and even to the extent that when you talk about accountability it’s not certain people that you make accountable, it’s everybody that’s being accountable, including teachers.”
Yesterday’s proclamation signing also saw PSS and BOE handing out awards of recognition to the Executive Branch, represented by Inos and Hofschneider; the Legislature, represented by Reps. Larry Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan), the Saipan Mayor’s Office, represented by Henry Hofschneider, and former governor Pedro P. Tenorio, who were represented by his children.