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Schools tap federal funds to meet payroll

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March. 17, 2011) – In the Northern Mariana Islands, Public School System (PSS)officials disclosed yesterday that the central government owes PSS about US$9 million in two fiscal years, an amount they said have been acknowledged by the administration and withheld as a result of dwindling government resources.

PSS Finance Director, Richard Waldo confirmed to Saipan Tribune during a special board meeting yesterday that the Office of Management Budget also approved a US$28 million budget for public schools next fiscal year. The figure will be proposed to the Legislature as part of the overall budget submission of the executive branch. PSS proposed US$36 million for Fiscal Year 2012.

Waldo disclosed that in fiscal year 2010, the administration failed to remit about $1 million in its budget while US$8 million will not be received this fiscal year 2011 due to severe government cash-flow problems. Both figures, he added, are significant as they represent the maintenance of effort requirement of the federal government. It can be recalled that PSS since 2010 has been receiving state fiscal stabilization fund from the American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which requires that maintenance of effort is maintained. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)-PSS was allocated US$32.4 million in total State Fiscal Stabilization Fund which will expire September this year.

The finance director disclosed that PSS has been tapping some of its federal monies to sustain the payroll of its employees for the past two fiscal years. At average, PSS pays US$2.3 million in payroll expenses per pay period.

This fiscal year 2011, PSS has a budget of US$30.1 million. However, Public School System was already advised that the government can only provide US$22 million until the end of fiscal year with the intention to reimburse the remaining budget next fiscal year. The finance director said federal monies were used to supplement this shortfall.

Waldo said the administration, in its numerous meeting with education officials, acknowledged the "debt" it owed to PSS and intends to fulfill its obligation. However, the finance director admitted that the central government only assured for now that the US$8 million un-remitted budget of Public School System for Fiscal Year 2011 will be returned in Fiscal Year 2012.

He said despite the anticipated lesser budget for Fiscal Year 2012, PSS can sustain its operation and payroll in the hopes that US$8 million will be reimbursed to the system.

Waldo disclosed that PSS will pay a higher personnel cost starting next fiscal as a result of the education board's goal of hiring only highly qualified personnel who receive higher compensation than those non-High Qualified Teachers.

At present, 77 percent of classroom teachers in all public schools are highly qualified while 23 percent are in the process of completing all the requirements.

The No Child Left Behind Act mandates that starting July 31, 2011 all school districts must only be filled with highly qualified personnel. In the CNMI-PSS, the Board of Education set three requirements to meet the highly qualified personnel requirement: degree, Praxis, and valid certificates.

There are currently over a thousand Public School System employees of whom more than 500 are classroom teachers. This fiscal year, over a hundred of these teachers are paid using federal monies, provided they are highly qualified personnel.

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