Guam Charter School Scrutinized By Lawmakers

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School leadership may face subpoena for not testifying at hearing

By Louella Losinio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Nov. 26, 2013) – Repeated attempts by lawmakers to make Guahan Academy Charter School (GACS) officials speak at yesterday’s oversight hearing fell on deaf ears, prompting Speaker Judith Won Pat to express her intention to issue a subpoena against charter school officials and reconvene another session.

Less than an hour after the oversight hearing commenced, Won Pat said the committee will exercise its powers under the law to subpoena those they want to testify on another date to be determined.

During the next meeting, the subpoenaed individuals would have to come in and bring the documents requested for presentation to the Legislature.

The charter school officials, led by Dr. Donna Dwiggins and chairman Matt Kane, brought legal counsel Daniel Sommerfleck to speak on their behalf. Both deferred the five minutes allotted for their opening statements to the school’s legal counsel.

Kane said the reason they wanted their counsel to speak on their behalf is to protect some of their rights. Sommerfleck said he was going to go through a full explanation of their presence at the Legislature and also respond to some of the concerns raised.

Sen. Aline Yamashita, who has been staunchly advocating for the charter school along with Won Pat, expressed her frustration, saying: "I don’t understand why the principal doesn’t want to speak for the council. Again, principals come to us all the time to talk. Legal counsel is important but legal counsel is not the lead person of the school."

Not sure

Yamashita said she is not sure what rights are being violated in the process, stressing to the charter school representatives that they were provided with the questions for the roundtable several weeks ago.

"So we are not going to talk about anything you don’t know about. That is why I am really befuddled," she said.

Meanwhile, Won Pat emphasized that the committee acknowledges there are good things happening at the charter school.

However, she noted that there are other functions the committee needed to ask to ensure the school is operating well and in accordance with Guam laws.

"Because what we want to do is to try to help, not hinder, but to help. But the actions of your chair, your principal, and your legal counsel tell me that is not what you want to do today," she said.

Only former senator and now charter school board member George Bamba and PTO president Arthur Taimanglo spoke to deliver their personal statements to the senators.

Addressing the legislators, Taimanglo, who said he is speaking for himself, said there is a need to strengthen the existing charter school council, which he says has oversight over GACS.

"We welcome the oversight and we do get public funds, I understand that. But there is a function that the school answers and it works with the charter school council. The council then relays back that information to the Legislature," he said.

Final authority

However, Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz stressed that the Legislature has final authority to have oversight over expenditures of all government funds, and whether the charter school council is functioning is irrelevant.

"And we thank you for the comment that we need to get the council going and we agree. But that will never supplant the authority that this Legislature has to oversee the expenditure of funds in the operations that we created," Cruz said.

Funding for GACS has been carved out of the Guam Department of Education’s resources. The Legislature approved a per pupil allocation of $5,500 for the school.

Four years after the enactment of a law sponsored by Won Pat, which allows the establishment of charter schools that operate independently from GDOE, GACS finally opened its doors this year.

With enrollment now numbering at least 500, the opening of the island’s first charter school was fraught with challenges, from locating a facility for its operations to establishing student transportation and finding resources for its school lunch program.

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