The Public School System is asking for a significantly lower budget proposal than its original $40 million, slashing it down to just $28 million.
During the PSS budget hearing last Tuesday by the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs at the CNMI Senate, Board of Education chair Janice Tenorio said they opted to request a mere $28 million instead of $40 million in order for other agencies not to suffer.
Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said PSS operated with just $20 million last school year, so $28 million is a practical amount. “We know that last year we were operating at $20 million. Well, we had $36 million but then it was re-appropriated down to $20 million so that really hurt us and we came unprepared and that caused the payless paydays and which resulted in furloughs. Lesson learned. We do not want to go through that again so, to be on the safe side, we will be realistic, more practical,” Ada said.
At $28 million, PSS will still be hurting, with employees at 64 hours and working four days a week but Ada said that nobody will be furloughed, and nobody gets a payless payday. “For now, given the situation, I’m satisfied,” he added.
Technically, however, PSS operated this school year at less than $20 million in local funds and is still waiting for the remaining $2 million that is being eyed for use to prepare for the opening of the new school year in September.
“We are waiting for $2 million until Sept. 30. We’re here pleading for it and I think we’re going to get that $2 million. We need that money. That will help us with payroll and opening of the schools,” he said.
Ada said PSS needs that remaining $2 million because it is extremely costly to prepare for the upcoming school year, given the new safety measures that will be put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just getting the fire extinguisher, inspection of the water, and all that stuff at the school level is very costly. Especially now with deep sanitizing, it’s around $228 per classroom and there are 30 classrooms in each campus. That’s over $6,000 per school. That’s just a ‘guesstimate’ because some schools have up to 45 classrooms,” he said.
Ada said once the school year begins on Sept. 8, it will start off with completely remote learning as principals determine who will undergo face-to-face instruction.