The Board of Education denied the Public School System’s proposal to cut the school week to just four days as part of their austerity measures proposal.
During a BOE special board meeting last Wednesday, BOE had a 3-2 vote on whether to implement the austerity measures proposed by PSS, including cutting school weeks to four days.
BOE chair Janice Tenorio and vice chair Herman Atalig voted yes to implementing the proposed austerity measures, while members Marylou Ada, Phillip Mendiola-Long, and Andrew Orsini voted no.
The cuts will be discussed further in another BOE board meeting that has yet to be scheduled.
PSS’ proposed austerity measure was a 20% across-the-board cut that would reduce all employees by 16 hours and cut schools to just four days.
According to Kimo Rosario, PSS director of finance, the CNMI Office of Management and Budget gave PSS notice that as part of the government’s austerity measures, they would cut PSS’ budget by 28%, reducing their $37.7-million budget by $10 million.
Rosario explained that the 28% cut would leave PSS with just $14.8 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, adjusting their fiscal year 2020 budget just $27 million.
Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said that if cuts are not made and the status quo is maintained, PSS would end the year with a $4.5 million deficit.
“If we don’t do anything, we will experience payless Fridays. As much as we don’t want to touch the teachers, we’re in a crisis,” he said.
Tenorio said that no matter how you look at the situation, cuts need to be made in order for PSS to continue operations.
“I’m sorry, we’re in a well we can’t climb out of. We have to entertain this,” she said.
Tenorio added that delaying the cuts, which is inevitable given the CNMI’s current situation, would just hurt everyone more.
However, Ada said that it is not fair to decide on another cut right away without further discussion especially since the government owes PSS money.
“[Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres] has to do what he needs to do to give us what is due to us. I cannot sit here and review all of these cuts and vote on this now,” she said.
According to teacher representative Paul Miura, it’s not that teachers are not willing to sacrifice like everyone else, it’s just that they have borne the brunt of the CNMI’s financial crisis for too long.
“To suggest teachers are not willing to sacrifice is just not true, many of us have already been cut 20% and the cuts that are needed would put us well below the old compensation plan. All I’m asking is that we give it another day to sit down and review those options. Teachers are willing to sacrifice and we have already done so, and we continue to do so,” he said.