GUAM SCHOOL SYSTEM SUED OVER PAYROLL

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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 22) - In a signal that it's illegal to deduct money from paychecks and to delay payment of the deductions for employees' loans, retirement accounts, health insurance and even memorial plan installments; Attorney General Alicia Limtiaco took the Guam Public School System to court yesterday.

Limtiaco also sued GPSS Superintendent Luis Reyes in his official capacity.

Reyes said he wasn't surprised by Limtiaco's move because he had a meeting a few days ago with the AG's office and in that meeting, he sensed a court action was brewing.

Reyes said the complaint will ultimately be good for the school system's employees -- who number about 4,000 -- because the complaint might prompt the Legislature and the Camacho administration to provide additional cash to the school system.

The deductions at issue in the complaint add up to US$6 million, for two pay periods: one ending February 17 and the other ending March 3 this year.

By law, money deducted from employees' paychecks should be paid within five days of the day GPSS's employees' pay was due, according to the AG's office.

The Guam Department of Labor is a co-plaintiff in the complaint, which seeks to "enter judgment ... against all defendants."

The plaintiffs also sought a temporary restraining order against GPSS and Reyes.

"Unless restrained and enjoined from so doing, defendants will continue to repeat the foregoing scheme in violation of the mandate" of Guam labor laws, according to the complaint.

The complaint is civil in nature.

In a criminal case, the threshold is higher, with prosecutors having to prove that money deducted from employees was used for personal purposes, or that there was fraud, according to Limtiaco.

GPSS legal counsel Fred Nishihira said if GPSS receives the amount to pay for the overdue payroll deductions, then the complaint would be moot.

The Department of Administration, which answers to the governor's office, decides how much cash is released to the school system.

Nishihira said GPSS is considering asking the court to include the Department of Administration as co-defendant.

For the pay period ending February 17, which means paychecks went out the following week, February 23, the superintendent had hesitated issuing paychecks that had only enough money to cover for net pay. Net pay means deductions did not get paid to payroll vendors.

But Reyes authorized release of the GPSS paychecks late in the afternoon on February 23 after Lieutenant Governor Mike Cruz, who was acting governor at the time, issued an executive order ordering GPSS to release the paychecks.

The AG's office later stated that did not excuse GPSS from its responsibility to pay full payroll.

The AG's office did not name anyone outside of GPSS as defendant in the complaint because GPSS is the employer, Limtiaco said.

The school system, amid its most recent controversy in days, faces a crucial day today.

It needs US$6 million for today's paychecks to be fully paid, but it did not receive cash from the administration as of 2 p.m. yesterday, said the superintendent.

GPSS is also waiting for the administration to release money for air-con system repairs at Tamuning Elementary and Southern High School.

Schools have run out or are running out of photocopying supplies.

The school system is considering cost-reduction measures, but it still must consult with the Guam Education Policy Board, Reyes said.

Some of the steps under consideration:

Sending acting assistant principals -- and administrators who do not have current certifications -- back to classrooms to bump off "emergency" teachers.

Those teachers do not have full teacher certification, and replacing some of them could save costs, according to the superintendent. Administrators who are not certified might also get pay cuts.

An emergency-certified teacher makes about US$29,000, on average, Reyes said.

Moving some GPSS offices, such as Chamorro Studies and the GPSS offices in Tiyan, possibly to Southern High to maximize use of the school.

Reyes said he's inviting the governor's office to send someone from the Bureau of Budget Management and Research to have a desk at the GPSS business office for day-to-day monitoring of GPSS spending, and in a gesture of financial transparency.

Meanwhile, the school system is issuing a Request for Proposals for the purchase of three vans that have food warmers.

The vans will be paid for with federal funds for cafeteria food services, and GPSS has the U.S. Education Department go-signal for use of money for such purpose, according to GPSS.

The amount of the planned purchase of vans was not immediately available.

Such federal money cannot be used for GPSS's local payroll.

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