By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 26) - The Public School System is asking the Legislature for a $44.8-milion budget for fiscal year 2005.

"That's the figure that we're discussing for the next school year," said Board of Education chairman Herman T. Guerrero.

The amount is $7 million more than the School System's present budget of $37.2 million.

The PSS currently operates on a continuing resolution due to the administration's veto of the Legislature- approved $213-million budget for 2004.

This, even as the BOE asked House Speaker Heinz Hofschneider to keep its funding level at $39.7 million for the current fiscal year. This level excludes a $1 million additional appropriation for the purchase of 10 school buses for PSS.

Hofschneider earlier said that the House leadership plans to redo the 2004 vetoed budget in consideration of two major items-money to operate the new juvenile detention facility and purchase of new public school buses-that are not funded under the continuing resolution.

He said the continuing appropriation, as opposed to the $213 million, has a difference of about $3-$4 million.

"The vetoed budget is less than the continuing resolution. To adopt or pass a budget lower than the continuing resolution, the expenditure level has already exceeded the anticipated quarterly expenditure under the proposed budget. So therefore, there is a deficit already.," he said.

Meantime, PSS data showed that for 2004, it would spend $34.3 million for personnel, nearly $2 million for operations, and some $84,000 for housing allowance.

The PSS had originally asked for some $50 million budget for FY 2004, which included a $3.4 million additional personnel budget to fill up its vacant positions.

PSS has 1,111 authorized positions, but it has 907 funded FTEs. The PSS was recently awarded some $764,000 in federal grant, about 400 percent more than its previous grants, following the classification of Saipan as an urban area.

PSS federal program officer William P. Matson said the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration increased the funding from $180,000.

The new grant, according to Matson would be spent primarily to pay for 12 existing buses, which the PSS leased in 1995.

Based on the lease agreement, PSS has until end of 2004 to pay the buses. "We're going to pay that off early," said Matson.

The PSS currently faces severe shortage in school buses as indicated by the late pick-up and drop-off of students.

The lack of school transport vehicles since the beginning of this school year resulted in junior and high schools students being transported an hour late than the original schedule.

This caused some students to arrive about 30 minutes late from their first class everyday.

PSS reportedly only maintains about 30 buses-some of which are under repair-to service over 10,000 students.

December 26, 2003

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