BOE infighting escalates
Members raise specter of corruption
Infighting within the 18th CNMI State Board of Education appears to be escalating, this time not merely because of procedural issues but allegations of corruption against two of the board’s members.
With another BOE meeting set this Thursday, March 23, at 10am—after three previous meetings were scrapped due to a lack of quorum—an unofficial “white paper” from an anonymous source, the origin of which could not be independently verified, “requests” to investigate possible corruption by officers/members of the CNMI Board of Education. The paper did not indicate to whom the “investigation request” is addressed.
The document, a copy of which was forwarded to Saipan Tribune Monday evening, claims that BOE chair Gregory P. Borja and BOE secretary/treasurer Maisee B. Tenorio “may have illegally violated federally-funded Professional Development accounts by donating to non-Public School System organizations.”
According to the author of the “white paper,” the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor, CNMI Office of the Attorney General, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are aware of the matter.
When sought for comments, both Borja and Tenorio said that at the time of their donation, it was permissible to donate their unspent PD funds and that they did so for good causes.
Tenorio said in a statement that it was explained to her upon joining the board that she can donate her unspent Professional Development funds to any organization that had an educational purpose. She said she immediately thought of the Know Your Worth competition, which is part of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Coalition’s Teen Dating Violence Month campaign, which seeks to combat teen dating violence through an art, essay, and spoken word competitions.
“Prior to requesting the transfer of PD funds for the benefit of this worthwhile event, I sought advice from the PSS legal counsel and the Federal Programs director. I was advised that there were no legal or ethical issues and that the Know Your Worth competition would certainly provide an educational purpose and benefit students directly. Also, I was excited about this opportunity that I openly shared it with the planning committee and others. However, upon the hiring of a new Federal Programs director, it was brought to my attention that it was impermissible to donate these funds unless they remained within PSS. Once I was made aware of this I immediately ceased any request to donate funds outside of PSS.”
When asked if Tenorio had been asked to return the funds, she said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
On a final note, she said, “My request to transfer unspent PD funds was made with the utmost desire and intent to benefit our students and our community.”
As for Borja, in an interview with Saipan Tribune, he said that board members were told, “if there is a point where board members don’t spend their funds, they are able to donate money to a cause.”
Borja said he donated to the Interact clubs of Saipan, which are Rotary-sponsored clubs of high school students. “Last year, near the end of the fiscal year, I again had unexpended funds, which I donated to those clubs to support their causes. They do beach cleanups, adopt shelters, have events for their schools such as Cultural Day and whatnot—so those are what the funds are for.”
He said he feels that his donation supported students in the school system and one private school to support their service clubs.
“I can’t get that money back. The money’s expended. If they want me to pay it back out of pocket, I’ll work out a plan with the school system. That’s fine. But again, I think one board member is trying to strong arm other board members in order to allow them to do an unallowable action. That’s my take,” he said.
He added that “a board member who was not able to get money out is stating that everyone who received money needs to return the money or they will report it to the Department of Education as misappropriation of funds.” Borja did not identify who he was referring to.
Borja said it was after he had already dispersed the funds that board members were told by Federal Programs that it’s an unallowable action to donate federal funds to a program outside the school system. “.. We had a board member who still wanted to use funds to different organizations—but we were told no, it’s an unallowable cost.”
Borja, like Tenorio, said they found this out after a new Federal Programs officer came into office.
Borja said he feels like he is being “extorted in order to allow them to do unauthorized action just because I did it unknowingly. Once we found out that we’re not allowed to spend money that way, we stopped doing it, we ceased—but they still want to do it.”
As for the upcoming meeting, Borja said it’s his understanding that they will have a full board present.
The BOE serves as the rule-making authority that oversees and implements policies that govern PSS. It failed to meet the quorum requirement during meetings last Feb. 1, 14, and 24.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that will reduce the BOE’s quorum requirements from four to three members.
The BOE consists of five voting members, but the presence of four voting members shall constitute the necessary quorum to conduct meetings. The bill will amend the Commonwealth Code to allow three voting members to constitute a quorum.
Besides Borja and Tenorio, the other voting members of the BOE are Antonio L. Borja, Andrew L. Orsini, and SGM (ret.) Herman Atalig. The board’s last three meetings did not push through after failing to muster quorum. In those three instances, both Orsini and Atalig did not participate in the scheduled meetings.