Former Board of Education chair MaryLou Ada believes that lifting the ongoing austerity measures at the Public School System would be “suicide.”
Speaking at yesterdays’ BOE meeting on Capital Hill, Ada, who also chairs the BOE’s Fiscal, Personnel, and Administration Committee, said the repercussions PSS currently face after Super Typhoon Yutu in October 2018 are too strenuous for the system and lifting the austerity measures is too risky.
She told the board that the FPA committee met with PSS officials last Wednesday to discuss lifting the austerity measures but they ultimately decided to put off deciding on the matter.
Ada said the repairs on several PSS schools damaged from Super Typhoon Yutu must be dealt with, as she previously requested PSS officials to get schools out of double sessions by January 2020.
“If we were to lift austerity measures, we need to consider other expenses like operations, utilities, gas, repairs, and many more. …This would increase our debt and if we could find a funding source, then we can discuss lifting [the austerity measures],” she said.
The board later took no action on the matter.
Ada said the board should take no action right now, because the FPA must get more information from PSS about its other options in order to lift the austerity measures.
Interim Budget and Finance director Kimo Rosario earlier said that PSS needs a bare minimum of $42 million in order to run operations. Right now, PSS is budgeted for $37.7 million for fiscal year 2020. This amount is the projected 25% that PSS will receive from the central government, as mandated by the CNMI Constitution.
He said PSS has implemented a 15% operational budget cuts in certain schools in order to balance out operation budgets on smaller PSS schools. Rosario added that lifting austerity measures without sufficient funding will put PSS under $6 million to $7 million worth of debt by the end of fiscal year 2020.
Newly installed Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada noted that lifting austerity is risky at this moment, since PSS just got out of its debt from outside vendors prior to his appointment. He said PSS should consider “dealing with the present” issues PSS is undergoing, that being the repairs of school facilities in order to return schools to full sessions.
He added that PSS and the board must understand that sustainable funding does not favor the lifting of austerity measures right now. “We don’t have money right now, we must understand that we need to use the money we have now for what we can spend sparingly,” he said.