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Funding for education department employees lost

By Therese Hart HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Nov. 20, 2009) – THE Guam Department of Education (GDOE) will send out a letter of separation to 302 federally-funded employees, informing them that they will be released by Monday because the $185,000 funding for their payroll is not available for pay period ending Nov. 21.

The expected amount of $5 million will also not be available until April 2010 to cover the shortfall pending third party fiduciary agent’s appointment.

Dr. Nerissa Underwood, GDOE superintendent, said affected employees are those under the Direct Instruction program working as substitutes, DI part-time employees, Alternative Schools, Teacher Retention, Parent Family Community Outreach Program, Success for All regular employees, and SFA substitutes.

"It’s not a furlough. It’s a separation as a result of federal funds being eliminated," said Taling Taitano, deputy superintendent of finance.

Also, GDOE does not have an updated staffing pattern. In order to do furloughs, GDOE must have an accurate staffing pattern to determine who will be furloughed.

In response to GDOE’s latest crisis, Gov. Felix Camacho had this to say: "We cannot continue to cover up for their mistakes and cover for them on all the short falls. We’ve suffered for far too long. All the other agencies and of course the children (are suffering) too," he said.

The governor is relying on the legislature to amend the current budget law and find the money to help GDOE.

Guam Education Policy Board chairman Joe San Agustin said that for the past two years he had always brought up this concern of hiring employees for federally funded programs when there was always the possibility of the funding running out or being cut.

"Why are people being hired in the Department of Education who are federally funded, but not hired as limited term employees? They should have been limited term employees, because their employment is based on availability of money via grants to fund those programs," he said.

"If the grant goes away and there’s no money, then we can’t pay you. I’m sure they would understand. But now, we have this to deal with, where they are full time employees and they have rights," San Agustin added.

"Local public law protects these employees. You can’t say that just because you’re federally funded, you’re going to be furloughed. Every employee has to have a retention plan to determine bumping rights, and I will not allow this board to engage in a criminal act," said San Agustin.

San Agustin said that he is still unsure whether calling the action a "separation" rather than a "furlough" still doesn’t violate employees civil rights since, "a separation, could be construed as a furlough, no matter what you call it." San Agustin said that he will continue to seek guidance from legal counsel.

By the pay period ending Nov. 21, GDOE will be short $185,000 to pay these employees. In a cumulative period of up to five months, GDOE will need approximately $5 million to cover funding shortfalls. And these monies will have to come from local funds, said Taitano.

The board chairman expressed his outrage by saying that this is the first time the legislature placed such a restriction on GDOE.

"This is the first time a budget was passed that restricts local monies to be used for federal grants and we’re the only government of Guam agency that is prevented from doing this. The Guam Legislature did this. If they had not placed the restrictions, then we could have taken care of it. As it stands, our hands are tied."

San Agustin said that even with USDOE placing GDOE’s fiscal and management oversight under a third party fiduciary agent, GDOE’s legal counsel Fred Nishihira spoke to the attorney general, to clarify if the budget restriction still stood, since USDOE’s decision.

San Agustin said that the attorney general informed Nishihira that the budget law is very clear and even with USDOE holding all funds that GDOE cannot use local funds to pay for federally-funded programs.

Speaker Judi Won Pat’s office has already crafted a bill. One of the possible provisions could allow GDOE to use its future allocation to pay for the shortfall. Another possible provision includes language that states that within two days of receiving money from USDOE, that GDOE must transfer the money to the local fund for reimbursement. The bill still needs to be reviewed by the legislature’s legal counsel, said Mark Duarte, Won Pat’s senior policy analyst.

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