25 percent guaranteed appropriation for PSS sought


Despite the meager increase in the Public School System’s budget for this fiscal year, the fact remains that per student cost in Commonwealth public schools is the lowest among territories and school districts in the nation at less than $3,000 per pupil.
For Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan, the only way to elevate and improve PSS’ ranking in this category is to ask for a bigger slice of the budget pie from the government.

There is pending legislation at the House of Representatives that intends to give public schools a higher guaranteed budget every fiscal year. House Legislative Initiative 18-12 seeks to amend Article 15, Section 1(e) of the Constitution to increase the guaranteed funding for PSS from the current 15 percent of the CNMI budget to 25 percent.

Sablan said PSS is pinning its hopes on this bill that is currently being entertained at the committee level.

For fiscal year 2013, PSS was allocated $33 million. Years before, the system’s local budget was even smaller, ranging from $28 million to $29 million.

“We’re the only school district within entities whose per pupil cost is very, very low at only about $3,000 per student compared nationwide with around $9,000 per student cost and some $6,000 per pupil cost in other territories,” said Sablan, adding that CNMI-PSS is just next to American Samoa.

Using the PSS budget amount of $30 million, per child cost comes out to only $2,600, among the lowest in the nation.

PSS has an enrollment of over 10,000 students in 19 public schools. Based on PSS records, six out of 10 children attending PSS come from families with income below the federal poverty guideline.

Compared to other Pacific islands and neighboring Guam, CNMI-PSS in at the bottom of school districts receiving local funding support from its government. Guam, it was learned, allocates $5,600 per child cost. U.S. Virgin Islands has a per-child cost of $11,000.

“We’re doing a lot for the very little that we get,” said the commissioner, citing the continued growth in the number of students every year.

Also, despite the limited funding, Sablan said that PSS goes beyond what is expected of it: rigorous training for staff, implementation of a rigorous curriculum, and other key initiatives for public schools.

For fiscal year 2015, PSS asked for $40 million, primarily to restore 117 positions it needs. Majority are classroom teachers. If all 117 positions are filled, this would reduce the high student-to-teacher ratio in many schools and would get rid of substitute employees. Part of the budget proposal is also for the maintenance and repair of facilities.

“I hope our legislators understand why we’re needing it…and I would certainly be more than happy to sit down with them on these issues,” she said.

Moneth G. Deposa | Reporter

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