BOE rescinds addendum part; runs risk of school shutdowns

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Posted on Jun 12 2019

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Rep. Roman Benavente (R-Saipan), as a special guest of the Board of Education, provides some insights yesterday before the Public School System staff and the BOE during the meeting’s public comments portion. (Erwin Encinares)

The Board of Education has rescinded parts of a recently issued addendum to the job contracts of Public School System personnel, removing the part that would have allowed PSS to further slash salaries.
Instead, a new addendum would state that the recent 50-percent cut in salary increases would be the final salary reductions for PSS staff.

In yesterday’s emergency meeting and after several executive sessions, the BOE unanimously rescinded a portion of the addendum that allowed PSS to reserve the right to implement even more salary increase reductions, if needed.

BOE Tinian representative Philip Mendiola-Long moved for the adoption of a new addendum and it was seconded by Saipan representative Andrew Orsini. After about 30 minutes in executive session, the new addendum garnered unanimous board approval.

According to the BOE discussions, the new addendum would be passed along to PSS employees for their signatures.

The ultimatum for PSS employees to sign or get laid off remains intact, with the final date still slated for June 21, 2019, with the same parameters.

Public school teacher representative Paul Miura attempted to ask for more time so that PSS staff could discuss the new addendum further. However, BOE chair Janice A. Tenorio noted that action must be taken immediately in order to prevent even more extreme cuts.

Education Commissioner Glenn Muña pointed out that, with the way the new addendum is worded, some schools may have to be shut down.

“…The addendum released already [June 6, 2019] states that for our certified staff, their cut doesn’t take effect until Aug. 9, 2019. For our non-certified staff, the pay cut took effect [Monday],” he said. “But, if we approve the new [addendum] then it pretty much says that there is no further reduction [but] rather it is understood that if there is no money, we would have to close down schools until such time that funding comes back.”

The BOE legal counsel clarified that the due dates for employees to sign the new addendum and the dates that the pay cut would take affect remain unchanged.

“I just hope and wish that if we do approve this [new addendum] that we do a lot better in disseminating this information to our teachers and employees…where the key management would visit schools or the principals be aware so they have time to explain it to the teachers,” BOE Rota representative Herman Atalig said. “I ask that we do this the right way due to sensitivity.”

Miura asked the board prior to voting on the new addendum what would happen should funding be short for payday and if teachers would receive compensation once funding becomes available.

“…If I am supporting an option that says that when schools close and there will be no payroll, then I cannot support that,” Miura said.

“It’s all dependent on whether or not we do have the money for payroll,” Muña replied.

“Full payroll,” Ada interjected.

If there is no more funding from the central government, then “…every school will be closed. It will be a payless Friday,” Atalig added. “It’s either you get a full check or not.”

Muña assured Miura that if there is no funding received from the central government, and schools are shut down, teachers would still be compensated, although that will be delayed.

“…[Compensation] will be delayed until such time that we receive [the funds,” Muña said.

In an interview after the four-hour emergency board meeting, Tenorio noted that she is confident that the central government would not allow schools to close.

“Fortunately, it’s summer,” Tenorio said. “[But] I am confident that the administration and the Legislature would not allow [school closures].”

“However, I believe we need to go back to the drawing board and adjust the salaries and merge tasks,” she added.

Erratic remittances forced addendum wording

The BOE explained through their legal counsels to teachers yesterday that the addendum was worded the way it was because the erratic biweekly remittances from the central government forced them to favor flexibility over quantity to prevent “payless paydays.”

During yesterday’s public comments section of the BOE meeting, several PSS staff cried foul over the wording of their June 6, 2019, addendum that basically asked PSS staff to either accept the inevitable salary reductions and be subject to possibly more reductions or get laid off.

“The reason it is uncertain for you is it is uncertain for us,” the BOE legal counsel noted.

If the central government was able to give PSS a stable remittance, then the addendum would not have been worded that way.

“We don’t know what they [the central government] is going to give us,” he said. “…Because we don’t understand what kind of money we are going to get, we need the flexibility to act quickly to avoid a payless payday.”

Mendiola-Long noted that the math simply did not “add up” but the BOE opted to prioritize staff salaries over anything else. Tenorio as BOE chair even apologized to PSS staff for the addendum.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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