Education Commissioner Glenn Muña has submitted his letter of resignation to the CNMI State Board of Education.
BOE chair Janice Tenorio confirmed that Muña will be resigning at the end of his contract in 60 days and that he had cited “personal reasons” for his resignation.
This comes on the heels of the resignation of PSS Finance and Budget director Christopher Ching, whose last day with PSS was last Wednesday.
Tenorio thanked Muña for his service as commissioner, noting that Muña has been a member of the Public School System for over 20 years. “He has been a big asset to the Public School System and the BOE would to thank him for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Tenorio said.
She also thanked him for giving the BOE 60 days to choose who the next education commissioner would be. Tenorio said they are still in talks about who will be named interim commissioner, but will allow Muña to continue as education commissioner through the duration of the 60 days.
Muña was the system’s associate commissioner for administrative services during the time of former education commissioner Cynthia Deleon Guerrero and assumed the top PSS post after Deleon Guerrero was let go in 2017.
After the tenure of Deleon Guerrero in 2017, the BOE first appointed Yvonne Pangelinan, the PSS associate commissioner for student and support services, as the PSS chief, before ultimately appointing Muña as interim commissioner in 2017.
The BOE offered Muña the permanent position of education commissioner only last year. He was slated to be under the PSS on a four-year contract.
At 41, Muña is the youngest education commissioner. Muña is a former principal of Oleai Elementary School, and was appointed as associate education commissioner for Administrative Services in 2012.
Saipan Tribune sought to obtain comments from Muña yesterday but he has yet to respond as of press time.
This developed as PSS grapples with a budget austerity that is being implemented throughout the CNMI government. That issue took top billing during yesterday’s meeting of the Board of Education on Capital Hill, with board members divided on how to resolve the issue.
There was a suggestion to give the CNMI government an ultimatum on the $16.4 million it owes PSS for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 but this was not unanimous, with some members pointing out that the better option is to work with the central government on getting the money owed, with the foremost priority being to avoid payless Fridays and shutting down schools.
Board member Marylou Ada suggested to the entire board and BOE chair Janice Tenorio to consider giving the government an ultimatum: to pay what is due PSS or it would sue the government and shut down classes.
Ada pointed out that all the money that the Finance Department gives PSS goes directly to staff payroll and expenses like utilities, life insurance, and to pay PSS vendors. There have been no allocations for repairs or maintenance and that PSS has been unable to raise salaries for staff as promised, she said.
“Are we at the BOE not fighting for our education effectively?” Ada asked the BOE.
She said that PSS is severely underfunded and, unless a solution is soon found to resolve the financial crisis, the system can only operate up to a certain point before being forced to shut down.
BOE member and vice chair Herman Atalig agreed with Ada, noting that he sent a memo to the other BOE members suggesting a solution to get PSS out of its financial hole.
He said the money the CNMI government gave PSS in 2018 is still not enough and does not meet the constitutional mandate of 25% of the CNMI budget.
“This was not caused by PSS mismanagement, but through the lack of funding as promised by the…constitution [at] 25%,” Atalig said.
Both Atalig and Ada pointed out that schools like Hopwood Middle School are still suffering from the damage caused by both Super Typhoon Yutu and the current austerity measures.
BOE member Andrew Orsini proposed to do whatever is necessary to keep the system alive and functional.
Tinian BOE member Phillip Mendiola-Long opposed Ada’s proposal. He believes that the BOE should understand the central government’s situation and assess the possible repercussions that are to happen if PSS were to threaten the CNMI government with an ultimatum.
He pointed out that if schools were to shut down, PSS teachers and staff would not be getting paid since schools would not be in session, and students would not be able to get the sufficient amount of classroom time needed to complete the entire school year, as per the requirements of their accreditation.
“Instead of pointing fingers at the government, I believe that we should ask them to clarify about the 25% mandate on when and how it will be transferred and find a way in which we can both work together to find a solution,” he said.
Tenorio agreed with Mendiola-Long. Instead of fighting with the government and pursuing a lawsuit or forcing an ultimatum, PSS should consider the options that are provided at the moment and consider what is best, she said.
Tenorio said she and Education Commissioner Glenn Muña have been talking with Finance Secretary David Atalig about the fund transfers that would enable the government to comply with the constitutional mandate, and that Atalig told them that the fund transfers have been running late lately as the Finance Department is currently working on the first batch of tax rebates.
“We are closely working together to get the necessary funding for payroll and avoid payless Fridays,” she told the board yesterday.
In a separate interview, Tenorio said they have already written the CNMI Legislature about the necessary funding needed and about the 25% constitutional mandate.
“We want to avoid payless Fridays and shutting down schools at all costs,” Tenorio said.
Tenorio said she and Muña have been working closely with critical vendors to provide services for PSS for the time being, while they get the necessary funding to pay these vendors. She noted that she continues to be in discussion with Atalig about the funding transfer and that Atalig has assured her that Finance is transferring whatever they can to PSS to comply with the constitutional mandate.