Education Commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan vowed yesterday that both the State Board of Education and the Public School System would do all they can to persuade the government to allocate an adequate budget for quality public education.
Today, education leaders and stakeholders are expected to grace the budget hearing on Capital Hill and they promised to come equipped with all the necessary data and records to prove their claims.
In an interview yesterday, Sablan could not hide her disappointment at what the Executive Branch has proposed for PSS next fiscal year. Gov. Eloy S. Inos had recommended a $33.2 million budget for PSS, which is $7.3 million shy of what the BOE had endorsed, $40 million, for fiscal year 2015.
“I know we’re challenged with the budget. I just hope they will give us the opportunity to present and for them to clearly see the big picture why PSS is requesting for a budget that is adequate to provide quality education in order for students to be successful,” said Sablan.
She hinted that failure to get the proper amount for PSS this upcoming fiscal year could result in a declaration of a state of emergency for CNMI public schools.
“Maybe I will ask the Board of Education to declare an emergency for us to really make sure we get the amount we need to adequately provide quality education,” said Sablan.
A budget that’s lower than $40 million, Sablan said, will mean more large class sizes in many schools. Teacher-to-student ratio will remain at an all-time high especially in secondary campuses. And there will be fewer teachers and counselors attending to the needs of an increasing student population.
“The implication is really going to trickle down right into the classrooms where we need the most support,” Sablan said, adding that the $33.2 million being proposed for PSS would result in “a lot of compromises.”
PSS cannot continue to operate this way, she said. “We want to be world-class, we want to be the best, so give us the adequate funding that’s needed for quality education, that’s what we’re asking for [from this government],” she said.
Sablan said that PSS has about 400 classroom teachers right now. Under its proposed $40-million budget for 2015, it wants to hire 35 more classroom teachers.
What if the Legislature goes ahead and approves the $33.2-million budget for public schools and then promise to do a supplemental funding for PSS?
Sablan doubts this will happen. “If there’s a supplemental budget, then I want to see it in writing,” she said.
When asked why PSS would choose to declare a state of emergency if it doesn’t get the funding it wants, Sablan said, “To me, an emergency is not having the adequate support for the school district, which places us in a very critical situation. We don’t want to compromise the safety of our schools. The Constitution mandates us to provide a compulsory and free public education…so it better be adequate.”
Sablan said that a “state of emergency” declaration for PSS is not meant to sound like a threat.
“I don’t want everybody to think that as a threat, but if we are to provide that adequate quality education that will ensure student success…that’s what we’re letting you know,” she said.
Sablan said the governor’s proposed $33.2-million budget is based on the $134 million government projected revenues next fiscal year. However, she noted that “revenues have gone up.”
“I know we always do this [budget hearing]. And every year I do it, nothing happens in our favor,” she added.