The CNMI State Board of Education has repeated its call on the need for opening new junior and senior high schools to accommodate the increasing student population, most especially in the southern area of Saipan.
BOE chair MaryLou S. Ada said that they are looking for local funding sources since the federal grants that the Public School System receives can’t be used for construction purposes like building additional classrooms.
“We have emphasized that to [PSS interim commissioner] Glenn [Muna] that we should prioritize [Marianas High School] because they have 1,500 students,” Ada said during a short recess in yesterday’s meeting at the BOE conference room in Capital Hill
“I’ve been to classrooms where there’s a 1:35 student-teacher [ratio]. That is not a conducive place to study. It is too crowded and hard to move around. That’s our priority, to build more classrooms and ease the stress of crowding in classrooms.”
She added that building a new school also needs a sizable land area since a road that’s coming in and out of the campus, cafeteria, and a playground or gym are among the things that they need to be considered aside from the classrooms.
“It includes a lot of big land, so we can’t have that if the land space is not adequately provided for. We’re losing a lot of public land. They are slowly diminishing. So we need a large property and it is hard to find nowadays,” said Ada.
She cited Hopwood Middle School as an example since it was built after World War II. “And it is close to the ocean. What if there’s a tsunami? It is about time that we must build. Hopwood is too old. We’ve been doing too many repairs and maintenance. It is better to build a new one, so it won’t be like Band-Aid solutions.”
Ada added that they are also looking to relocate the school but “Every time we pick [a land], it’s already been taken. So the governor must understand we need a need junior high school and we need to alleviate MHS.”
She said one junior and one senior high school would be enough. “We’re doing a seven-year plan so this may come up soon. It will give us a direction where the population is shifting right now.”
“Right now, it’s in the south. Classrooms in [Garapan Elementary School] are way empty. Everybody is looking at Koblerville. Hopwood’s population is increasing. [Saipan Southern HS] also seen an increase in population. It is really shifting toward the south.”
Address the issue
BOE member Herman T. Guerrero, a former board chair, said the issue must be solved immediately. “Either we build another high school somewhere. One of the biggest problems over the years is there’s no public land that is close to those areas.”
“The other public land that the government still have is past the [CNMI Division of] Agriculture office. That is something to look into,” Guerrero added.
He, however, said that their pleas have fallen on deaf ears of past and present administrations. “Sometimes the governor and [Department of Public Lands] seem not too serious when it comes to looking in terms of providing the future needs of the CNMI for education. We’ve been asking for those things, even in the past, it keeps falling on deaf ears.”
Guerrero said that the former San Antonio Middle School must also be moved. “Because it is too crowded and we are also encroaching on private land. Something has to move. The late Gov. [Eloy] Inos was recommending the one at the Agriculture office. That’s a big chunk of land. Other than that, it is going to be difficult to find public land. Even in Garapan, it is going to be difficult.”
He recalled that they asked for the public land just north of the hospital during the administration of then governor Juan N. Babauta but it was leased to another party. “By the time they cancelled the lease, [the land] was given to the hospital. Our requests kept falling on deaf ears.”
“[DPL] is also doing a master plan and we have echoed our concerns. The government needs to plan, to set aside for the future needs of the CNMI educational system. We voiced that to [interim commissioner Muna] several times before that we should ask DPL or Gov. [Ralph DLG] Torres to set aside [land past Agriculture office] before the government gives it off.”
He said they had also asked Torres for a piece of land near Saipan Southern High School where some of the students park their cars. “But he refuses. I don’t know where he is in considering the needs for our education. We asked that [land]. I asked [Rep.] Angel Demapan to introduce a legislation to give [BOE] the property.”
“We’re not asking too much. We just want a piece that we can pave and turn it into a parking lot. [It’s] not a large portion of land. When Pete A. Tenorio was executive director of Public Lands, he mentioned that it could be done. But subsequent governors where just playing politics.”
He said it is up to the other BOE members to push for the plan since his term would end this year.
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) said the plan of relocating GES has also been discussed for over a decade now since the school is near the island’s tourist district that includes restaurants, hotels, and bars.
“It has been on and off. But, you know, PSS has to be at the front and center of that conversation. And also, the surrounding communities that serve the children of those areas have to be involved in that decision making.”
“You know, GES is right in the middle of the tourist district. But it still serves a substantial number of students. Is that something that we want to do if and if we do that then how are we going to be able to do it?”
Plans of demolishing and developing the abandoned housing units near the GES gate entrance have floated around, but there’s still no concrete proposal on how the area could be used.
Palacios has introduced the legislation that established the Office of Planning and Development to help manage the rapid pace of development projects in the Commonwealth.