Public School System employees fear that the administration’s plans to lift furloughs earlier than planned could deplete the funding from the Education Stabilization fund under the CARES Act.
During a recent Board of Education meeting, Marianas High School teacher Jeremy Rother said the administration’s earlier announcement to lift the furlough was later retracted, but PSS employees are still concerned about the possibility of the PSS leadership prematurely lifting the furlough in a way that depletes the limited funding that is available for education from the CARES Act.
He added that putting PSS employees back on the payroll should not be the primary reason for spending the federal funds. Instead, PSS should use the funding for next school year’s operations by purchasing technology and other instructional resources for students, or repairing and replacing the crumbling infrastructure in various schools, he added.
“PSS leadership already made the mistake of incurring outsize payroll liabilities, which they knew they would not even be able to pay on time to locally funded employees by keeping us on administrative leave status, all the way until April 15. During this period, PSS wasted money it did not have yet by deepening its outstanding obligation to employees who were not working,” Rother said.
He added that most of the furloughed teachers are expecting unemployment benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs and lifting furloughs would make them ineligible for this aid.
“If PSS employees remain on furlough, most of us can expect more money for the furlough period from unemployment assistance programs, and a more financially robust PSS going into next school year. If the furlough is lifted, PSS can expect less money for that same period and more financial uncertainty for PSS employees, students, and families we serve,” Rother said.
BOE member MaryLou Ada agreed with Rother, saying that PSS should carefully plan how it spends the stabilization funds. “All reimbursement that we are going to make defies what we are trying to stress—quality education. More funding is going toward personnel but not into the actual fiscal development for PSS.”
However, she said, PSS should pay employees what is owed them, but she disagreed with the idea of “un-furloughing” the employees so PSS can pay them “and then putting them back on furlough so they can get unemployment benefits.”
BOE chair Janice Tenorio directed PSS management to seek guidance and more information from the CNMI Department of Labor regarding the unemployment benefits for employees should PSS decide to end the furlough.
PSS wants to end the furlough of over 700 locally funded employees so they can receive their summer pay benefit.
PSS was recently awarded $23.1 million in federal Education Stabilization Funds.