Senator Offers Suggestions For Am. Samoa DOE Problems

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Split up schools into zones, contract vendors for upkeep: Galeai

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 27, 2013) – Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli has offered a "solution" to address the long standing problems with American Samoa’s Department of Education (DOE) in maintaining public school buildings, which has delayed — for the second week — the start of the new school year for public schools on Tutuila and Aunu’u.

The Manu’a senator says the current deplorable and "very sad" condition of the public schools as identified by the Department of Health inspectors has been there all these years but nothing much was done for improvement.

"This report given to the Senate by the DOE and the government is only a stop-gap of what they are doing to address these problems, but what we need is to find long term solutions," said Galeai during a Samoa News interview following Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing where DOE director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau testified on the status of public schools.

Galeai was present during the early part of the committee hearing, but left the Senate chambers for an emergency.

"If I were able to attend the entire committee hearing, I was going to suggest to the director, to put in place a long term solution — which is to divide the territory into three to four zones and from there, put out bids to the private sector to handle annual repairs of all public schools," he said.

"And if additional funds are needed, DOE — through the Governor’s Office — can submit a request to the Fono for approval," he added. "The way the government is rushing to fix all public schools before the new school year for Tutuila starts is not going to resolve this long standing problem of aging school buildings and the lack of proper maintenance over the years."

Vaitinasa told the Senate committee hearing that DOE has a maintenance crew of 15 people.

"That is a joke. Only 15 crew members for so many public schools in the territory? There is no way this crew can deal with maintenance throughout the year," said Galeai, adding that giving maintenance to the private sector, "also contributes to the development of the local economy, with the private sector providing more jobs."

During the committee hearing, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega suggested the director look at having this work — such as fixing bathrooms and major renovations — done by the private sector and overseen by a task force, who would report to the DOE director.

This suggestion was supported by Senators Avegalio Aigamaua and Laolagi F.S. Vaeao, who also noted that private sector contractor(s) can handle all the major repair work during summer break for public schools.

"It’s a lot of work to be done and DOE needs help," said Laolagi, who told Vaitinasa to revisit the fuel tax from which a portion goes to DOE facility maintenance, and ensure the entire fund is available to DOE for maintenance purposes.

As to the $1 million supposedly allocated in FY 2013 for DOE school maintenance, there seems to be some confusion as to how much they have actually received.

At least two senators mentioned briefly the $1 million saying for DOE to look into this money to help them out.

However, the $1 million was raised during a Senate hearing earlier this year in April, but DOE's Deputy Director for Finance Russell Aab explained that only $550,000 was allocated in the DOE FY 2013 budget. He said the information was provided to DOE by the ASG Budget Office.

In the FY 2013 budget submitted to the Fono last September, the government apparently allocated $1.4 million for the school maintenance fund, but the Fono cut more than $400,000 from this money.

Then, during the last supplemental budget submitted by ASG this year, DOE was allocated $500,000 for repairs and maintenance, but after the hearing, $100,000 was cut and re-directed to the MV Sili for repairs. At the time, during Senate discussion of the bill, Senator Magalei Logovi’i, who was the former treasurer of the previous administration, pointed out that $1 million had been allocated in the FY 2013 DOE budget for R&M. The bill was signed by Governor Lolo, with the allocation cut.

In the FY 2014 budget, the same amount of $1.4 million is allocated for the DOE school maintenance fund with $700,000 for maintenance materials and $700,000 under the ‘contractual service’ budget category for "school construction and renovation."

[PIR editor's note: Meanwhile, a USDOE team of three is currently in the territory to review local government's compliance with requirements levied ten years ago. If the government is found to have met those requirements, USDOE may remove the "high risk" status imposed on American Samoa's DOE.]

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