A week after former Education commissioner Cynthia I. Deleon Guerrero was terminated from her post, the Public School System board made sure that all legal rights owed her as prescribed by the CNMI Constitution were given accordingly.
According to Board of Education chair Marylou Ada, the CNMI Constitution empowers the BOE to hire and fire the PSS commissioner.
“Everything was done according to applicable laws of the Commonwealth, according to her contract, and according to our Human Resources Office policies and procedures. What this means is there were no personal biases that entered into the decisions,” Ada said.
The BOE is authorized by law to terminate an employee only in two instances—under “just causes” or “at will.”
Deleon Guerrero was terminated at will after the board conducted an evaluation of her employment.
“The facts that we used as basis speaks for itself as there was no politicking, no prejudice, [it was] not malicious and not arbitrary,” Ada added.
The process that led to Deleon Guerrero’s termination is similar to a regular organization or corporation where employees undergo evaluations every year and the results could either continue or discontinue employment.
“The commissioner is different and, as the head of the entire organization, she was treated very cautiously so her evaluation was stricter and structured versus anybody who is just a regular employee,” Ada said.
“We worked for two days and we are not hiding anything because notice of her evaluation was out in the papers. We gave her a courtesy notice and it was publicly announced so the board was transparent,” she added.
Ada said two special board meetings were held that facilitated Deleon Guerrero’s evaluation and termination.
The first was held last Oct. 25 at the BOE building on Capital Hill. The notice of this meeting was publicly announced in the newspapers as an executive meeting.
Ada said it was an executive session because a lot of the things in the agenda were confidential, such that even Deleon Guerrero was not asked to join in.
“Since this was an evaluation, we discussed if the goals and objectives we have (PSS board) ties with her and what has she done within the year. It was a working session where the board will get together and fine-tune the evaluation process and look at all the things that she has done.
“We believe in freedom of thought and that some things should be kept private because it does affect the person involved. Most of the dialogue we had were mostly personnel matters and should not be open,” she said.
Ada said a second meeting was needed as Rota board member Herman Atalig was not present at the Oct. 25 meeting.
“After that meeting, we felt that we had enough information based on the totality of the data and evidence on hand plus all the discussions. There were four members present in that meeting and by law, it only takes three board members to vote and terminate the commissioner. We could’ve voted already but we wanted to give respect and an opportunity to hear from our colleague from Rota.
“So we scheduled another meeting on Monday, the 30th, which was an open forum and that gave us a chance to hear Atalig. Notice was published in the newspaper on the 27th, Friday, where it stated that one of the agenda was the discussion on the ‘reinstatement of COE,”’ she added.
The public notice of the Oct. 30 BOE special board meeting was published on Saipan Tribune on Oct. 27, 2017, and stated “Retention of COE.”
According to Ada, Deleon Guerrero had notice of the second meeting and “that should give you a warning that your job is on the line.” She added that the commissioner’s travel to Hawaii where she was set to leave Oct. 29 was pre-approved and planned.
“We did not sign and allow her travel to let her go. It was signed prior to all of this and we didn’t know it was going to move this fast. Every step of the way, we let her know what was going on.”
“So she had a chance to be heard. She had notice that we were going to have a public meeting but she went ahead on her trip…that could raise anything like ‘My future’s at stake, I should stay back.’”
Deleon Guerrero’s termination was effective Nov. 5, 2017. The acting COE is Glen Muña.
“Glen Muña is very capable and he will sit in as acting BOE until we hire a new one to fill the post. In the meantime, continuity is very critical in any organization. At PSS, we have to make sure we are not distracted by all these things that are happening,” Ada said.