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By Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 23) - Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Governor Juan N. Babauta failed to release US$1.1 million needed by the Public School System before the opening of classes even though he has the power to reprogram funds, according to Education Commissioner Rita H. Inos.

The Legislature earlier this summer unanimously approved the reprogramming of US$1.1 million from the deficit reduction account to PSS to pay for repairs and maintenance of public schools, trash collection, fuel for school buses, repairs of school buses, pay for security guards and payment of annual leave for teachers.

"This is the money that PSS desperately needed before school opened on August 3," Inos said, adding that PSS wrote the governor on July 11 about its need for the US$1.1 million.

Inos said they followed up again and again but never received a response from the governor.

According to Inos, "It is wrong to believe that the governor is just a figurehead who does nothing because the power to appropriate funds resides with the Legislature."

She added, "All that is needed to prove that the governor is not just a figurehead who does nothing is for him to act now and reprogram the US$1.1 million from the deficit reduction account as approved by the Legislature early this year."

Inos said PSS has failed to provide teachers with a pay increase because they have not had a budget increase in over seven years.

"The PSS budget is US$5 million lower than it was in 1997 and 1998. Yet, PSS has opened six new schools and added over 2,500 more students since 1997 and now has a student enrollment of over 12,000 students," Inos said.

Board of Education member Herman T. Guerrero, chairman of the board’s legislative committee, said they are now working closely with lawmakers to help address PSS’ funding problem.

Yesterday, he met some members of the House who, he added, assured him that they will introduce a bill today regarding the PSS budget.

"If they’re not ready to appropriate the entire commonwealth budget then…we’re asking for (a piece-meal budget for) PSS," he added.

Guerrero noted, however, that lawmakers have already authorized the governor to reprogram funds for PSS but "we still have not received any of that amount."

August 24, 2005

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