Budget cuts in Nothern Mariana Islands: ‘We will not hesitate to close down schools’

edited January 8 in General
Despite nearly all government departments lifting austerity measures late last year, the Public School System remains in austerity and looks as though it will remain in austerity indefinitely due to cuts the government is asking them to make, again.

During the 16th CNMI State Board of Education Standing Committee meeting on Fiscal, Personnel and Administration yesterday, Marylou Ada, who chairs the BOE’s FPA committee, said that PSS has been asked by the central government to reduce their budget, again, on top of the reduction they were asked to make back in July 2019.

PSS would ultimately have to revert back to the compensation plan of 2016, nullifying the salary increase implemented in 2017.

However, Ada said, in her capacity as chairwoman, she is not willing to make the requested cut unless the government provides data to warrant another reduction to their requested budget.

“We were told to reduce, again, our budget and I don’t think, as FPA chair, we are willing to do that unless I see the data from the central government as to why and why other agencies are not being asked, we have not lift our austerity, we’re still under austerity measure,” she said.

Ada said they will continue to fight the reduction as much as they can, and if worse comes to worse; she will not hesitate to close the schools.

“I will not hesitate to close schools and I’m going to get the parents behind us. We cannot tolerate this anymore. Last year they asked us to reduce and when we reduced they came back, saying we didn’t reduce enough, so we reduced again. We went down to 50%,” she said.

Ada explained that she fears if the request for another reduction in their budget request is implemented, PSS will not be able to retain their educators and the quality of education in the CNMI will diminish.

“[Teachers] will leave and what’s going to happen to the quality of education in the Commonwealth? It’s going to diminish and we were doing so well, we are on the right path,” she said.

Ada said historically, FY 2020 allocation was already an all-time low for PSS. Ada added that shouldn’t be the case because education is the Commonwealth’s future.

“This has been the lowest allocation from the government. If anyone wants to stand up and say they care for education, now is the time to act because we cannot stand this misinformation, this misrepresentation by the government saying that everything is OK when you’re asking PSS to be the sacrificial lamb for the entire Commonwealth whereas education is the future of the Commonwealth,” she said.

PSS was allocated $37.7 million for FY 2020 after the government requested more than a $13-million cut in their original $50.8-million budget request last July. Ninety percent of PSS’ funding goes to personnel salary.

The FPA committee will reconvene today to continue to discuss the budget reduction.

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