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By Tanya M.C. Mendiola

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (December 27, 2001 - Pacific Daily News)---When Gene Cruz was 16, he dropped out of high school.

Now, the 22-year-old father of three is working to obtain a General Educational Development degree, because he wants to make a better life for himself and his family.

On Monday, Gov. Carl Gutierrez vetoed Bill 171, which would have required future government of Guam employees to have a high school diploma, equivalent education or certification in their trade.

In his veto message, Gutierrez said it would be discriminatory to deny a job to applicants who may be disqualified only because they lack a high school diploma.

Cruz said he has held several jobs, including a position at the Legislature, and wanted to get his high school equivalency because it may yield higher-paying jobs.

"The pay is not so good at minimum wage," Cruz said.

He added he agrees with Bill 171, because people would be better skilled and qualified.

Department of Education Superintendent Rosie Tainatongo said she would like all students to obtain their high school diploma, but would not second-guess the governor's reasons for vetoing the bill.

"My wish and my hope is that every student will graduate," she said. "By graduating and obtaining a high school diploma, it will open up more doors for opportunities."

According to DOE records, last school year only 50.7 percent of high school seniors graduated. There were 293 students -- who were at least 16 -- who chose to voluntarily withdraw themselves from school, said Nerissa Bretania-Shafer, DOE research, planning and evaluation administrator.

This figure is not inclusive of 684 students who are considered in the education department's annual dropout rate, including: those who were unable to graduate within six years, those who left the school system for unknown reasons and pupils who stopped attending classes or were dropped from the school roster because of absences in excess of 25 days, Bretania-Shafer added.

Erika Cruz, an assistant principal at Benavente Middle School, said the bigger issue is not passing a law to require students to graduate to get a local government job, but rather, figuring out what must be done to make students want to earn a diploma.

"How can we get students to graduate?" Cruz asked. "That is the question that we, as teachers, need to ask ourselves, and it is something that needs to be supported by the governor."

For additional reports from the Pacific Daily News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Pacific Daily News (Guam).

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