The Department of Education is requesting for a budget of about $328-million dollars for Fiscal Year 2016. That’s about $94-million dollars more or a 40% increase from last fiscal year’s appropriation. This prompted a lot of questions from lawmakers including what DOE’s priorities are.
According to DOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez’s letter to the Legislature, one of the major components for the requested budget increase is due to Capital Improvements, but that statement was challenged.
Vice Speaker BJ Cruz says, “So you broke ground last week for the office space but we haven’t broken ground for the repair of the schools?”
Fernandez answers, “Correct. The RFP is in process and the procurement is in process. We’re hoping that during the summer, we can move that quickly along.”
Cruz says, “I’d liken it to parents deciding to wait for their second opinion on whether or not corrective surgery is needed for their children but instead decided to do cosmetic surgery for themselves or expand the kitchen at the house. It’s unconscionable.”
Fernandez says building Tiyan High School was DOE’s first priority to help alleviate overcrowding at George Washington High School. After Tiyan High was completed, Fernandez says since the opportunity and funds were available, he decided to use it to build a new headquarters for DOE.
He says, “I disagree with you Vice Speaker about prioritizing our schools over our administrative uses as being the sole way of referring to this situation. As you know, $90 million in differed maintenance did not occur overnight. Even though I made Tiyan High a priority, the fact that the Legislature and the Governor both had agreed that administrative uses were appropriate, I decided to take advantage of it to use it for a couple things: provide the space to consolidate all our operations at Tiyan, free up space at Chief Brodie and Piti land.”
Cruz then asks Fernandez about the possible need of expanding Tiyan High School if there is an anticipated increase in enrollment. Fernandez says they’re looking at about 1600 students this coming school year. He says if needed, students will be occupying the two wings DOE is utilizing right now for offices that will be vacant in a few months when they move to the new $27 million dollar DOE headquarters.
Cruz says, “So when we finish, central office would have brand new office space but Tiyan High School will be occupying buildings as old as I. I’ll just end with saying that was $27 million that could’ve gone to brand new classrooms if you could’ve moved to the old building, but I’m sorry it was determine to be the other way. I’m just appalled at the priority.”
DOE is also asking for $12 million to replenish funds that will be used to cover operations shortfall in FY15. According to the letter, the department anticipates about $5 million dollars in shortfall from the Territorial Facilities Fund. Fernandez brought up that DOE is really concerned about TEFF funds and how projections over the past two fiscal years have been much higher than actual collections.
Fernandez says, “We continue to work to release the reserves, it has gone down to the 3% level, I believe we’re waiting to hear word on this June 30 result as to whether the rest of the reserves will be released based on our revenue projections, but we constantly work with DOA to make sure we’re prioritized and our cash comes at the right time for our needs. The only issue we’re careful about is getting a good projection on TEFF for this year. What we’re most concerned about is that we’re building our budget and expending that budget based on cash that we can anticipate.
Fernandez says DOE will be meeting with the Guam Education Board tomorrow, where he will be updating the board on the status of taking DOE off high-risk grantee status and getting higher reimbursement for food services.