Despite operating under austerity for over a year now, the Public School System says its priority is not to lift austerity, but to bring schools back to where they used to be before the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018.
Board of Education member Marylou Ada said in a short interview that, despite the CNMI Supreme Court ruling in their favor and the realization that PSS is owed a substantial amount by the central government, it is still going to take time to lift austerity at PSS, as it is not the priority right now.
“We need to set our priorities. [Lifting austerity] is going to be incremental. Right now, we are working on what we can do to open up the schools [and make it] safe and environmentally friendly,” she said.
Ada told reporters the more pressing need is to ask the central government for additional funding so PSS can operate smoothly, repair school campuses so that half-day sessions can be lifted, and to get teachers their rightful salary prior to the 50% cut in July 2019.
“We’re not going to lift the austerity. We’re working on keeping our head above water,” she said.
According to a previous article on the Saipan Tribune, PSS is asking for an additional allotment of $3 million from the central government following the Supreme Court’s response to the question of what constitutes general revenue.
Ada said they are working on requesting the 25% that PSS is owed, starting off with an additional $3 million monthly allotment to reopen schools and to get back on track.
Ada elaborated that the monthly allotment of $3 million would go to gas for student transportation, personnel salary, classroom repairs, and other operational costs. This would also allow PSS to retract the 50% salary cut that was implemented back in July 2019.
Ada said they would revisit negotiations once the government is back on its feet and that PSS is owed more than just $3 million.
Ada also said PSS is in dire need of the additional $3 million because they are operating at a bare minimum and PSS is barely staying afloat.
“The cost of running the schools have increased, but our allotments have not increased, it has decreased, so we’re really running on bare minimum. That was the whole essence of trying to get the rightful budget and that’s why we went and got a constitutional amendment to guarantee 25% to PSS because we cannot continue to go there and continue to beg for money,” she said.