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Back Opinion ben's Pen Withholding education funds

Withholding education funds

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SECTION 17 of Public Law 31-75 appropriated $525,000 to buy equipment for certain Guam Department of Education (GDOE) schools from the Supplemental Appropriations Revenue (SAR) Fund. The administration is withholding these funds calling them “unfunded appropriations” and leaving the teachers and students of George Washington High School (GWHS), Simon Sanchez High School (SSHS), Southern High School (SHS), and Agueda Johnston Middle School (AJMS) to have to deal with inadequate classroom conditions.

Before the GDOE School Year 2011-2012 began, there were several public health issues at these schools, among others that had to be addressed over the summer. Furthermore, there was much discussion regarding the overcrowding in our lone Mangilao public high school, GWHS. I introduced Bill 255-31 to provide funding to GWHS to temporarily relieve the overcrowding burden by providing funding for equipment, and to SSHS, SHS and AJMS to address and prevent the public health issues that have arisen or may arise. These funds are now withheld by the administration, calling them unfunded appropriations when in fact these funds were identified as real by the administration to fund their priorities.

In FY2011, the administration billed the Guam Power Authority (GPA) over $12 million for payments in lieu of taxes that has not been paid to the government of Guam for over a decade. The Consolidated Commission on Utilities (CCU), in its Resolution No. 2011-32, stated that the administration had agreed on a settlement of $2,625,000 to be paid to the government of Guam for the past due payments and would pay the yearly bills going forward. For the agreed upon settlement payment, $525,000 was appropriated to the identified GDOE schools.

To date, the administration has yet to carry out its duty in collecting the settlement payments, which they had initially billed and negotiated with the GPA legal counsel. Unless GPA and the administration’s word are no good, then it is incomprehensible why the administration would call the appropriation unfunded.

Now, the governor is putting the burden of his failure to collect the money on our teachers and students to bear with inadequate conditions the money was suppose to fix. Additionally, with the nefarious 15 percent reserve that the administration has placed on GDOE, it places the teachers and students in a precarious situation that further dilutes their adequate education.

Section 4109(c), Title 5 of the Guam Code Annotated specifically states, “No planned expenditures necessary to provide every public school student an adequate public education shall be modified or withheld.” Furthermore, the Guam Legislature gave the governor the power to transfer funds between agencies and fund sources, for flexibility in managing the resources necessary to address issues that affect our education system.

The priorities this administration has set forth have been abundantly clear: spending thousands of dollars on trade missions without adequate details of itineraries or private meetings with off-island business owners with no disclosure on what was discussed. The administration’s priorities should also concentrate on investment in education, public safety, and health in our community. Instead, we have seen layoffs in the areas of education, culture and protecting our natural resources, freezing increments at a time when most are unable to keep pace with the rising cost of gas, water and power, and waiting until the last minute to purchase ambulances for which funding was available since the beginning of the year.

I urge the administration to keep its promise of education as a priority and not withhold the funds that our teachers need to provide an adequate education to the children of Guam, especially to the students of GWHS, SSHS, SHS and AJMS.

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