The standing committee of the Public School System’s Board of Education met yesterday to gird themselves for organizational and salary adjustments that need to be made as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, which is having a dire impact on the CNMI economy.
Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada expressed regret that he has to—yet again—notify all PSS staff that there will be salary adjustments that will be applied throughout the organization, and those salary adjustments would also apply to himself, the associate commissioners, directors, principals, and vice principals.
In addition to salary adjustments, his presentation also showed that some positions would be merged, where some of the associate commissioners of PSS will also become directors.
PSS’ current budget is set at $37 million, but due to austerity measures, they only have $13 million to survive for the next seven months, which means that they can only spend $1.8 million per month to stay afloat, but Ada said that Gov. Ralph DLG Torres has promised to give PSS $2.2 million a month.
According to Ada, the salary changes are needed because of the budget shortfall this school year. He said that PSS doesn’t have the sustainability to meet the financial obligation created under the salary compensation plan that was implemented four years ago, nor does it have a contingency plan should the economy face a shortfall. In addition, the changes will have to be maintained for the next two years and will overlap with the next fiscal year and beyond, he added.
He said the full Board of Education has already been made aware that this adjustment needs to take place as soon as possible and has already been given a proposal to review before a BOE meeting that will take place on Feb. 27.
Ada emphasized that they will continue to revisit the salaries of teachers, teacher aides, and instructors in their upcoming proposal.
Philip Mendiola-Long, the Tinian representative on the BOE, said the cuts were very difficult to make. He acknowledged that there are strong advocates among the teachers and the administrative staff but, unfortunately, the cash is not there, so they have to make the tough decision and figure out where the cuts could be made.
“…We will continue to look for other alternatives but, at this point, the cuts that are being proposed…is just to get us from payroll to payroll,” said Mendiola-Long.
The coronavirus outbreak has prompted four airlines to cancel or suspend flights to the CNMI until further notice. That has resulted in a steep plunge in Commonwealth revenue, which is highly dependent on the entry of tourists. The decline in tourism dollars is having a domino effect on the CNMI government’s operations.