GDOE Superintendent seeks flexibility to manage education budget

GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez supports Bill 196-35, which would allow GDOE to seek alternative sources of energy at a discounted rate.

Guam Department of Education (GDOE) Superintendent Jon Fernandez has finally made official his department’s opposition to the new decentralized budgeting methodology adopted by the Legislature’s appropriations committee.

In his testimony during the public hearing on the budget bill, Fernandez requested Sen. Joe S. San Agustin, the head of the Legislature’s appropriation committee, to strike out Chapter II, Section 2, of the budget bill, which Fernandez said implies a level of site-based management that he claims principals do not support at this time and which “would represent a major policy and operational shift in the middle of the school year. “

Fernandez also opposes the provision which authorizes budgetary transfer controls to principals where students transfer from one school to another as well as the provision which restricts the superintendent’s transfer authority.

“This transfer authority limits the superintendent’s control to less than 10% of the appropriation, after taking into account the school-level appropriation and the dedicated funding purposes from other revenue sources,” Fernandez said.

During the hearing, Fernandez also reiterated the department’s budgetary situation, cash pressures, and efforts to mitigate the impact of a significant $18 million in budget cuts over the past 18 months.

Bill 186-35 provides GDOE with a $220.6 million operating budget, which is a $660,473 increase over last year’s funding level. Despite this overall increase, Fernandez said reductions were made in funds set aside for school libraries, interscholastic sports, health and physical education programs as well as the First Generation Trust Fund.

Fernandez said GDOE requires funding to meet its obligations to pay salary increments ($888,527), catch up with teacher reclassifications ($759,838), and absorb the transfer of school grounds maintenance back to GDOE from the mayors ($393,545).

Fernandez also reiterated the need for textbooks, collateral equipment, and facility renovations, and asked that language be included to transfer the authority to procure alternative energy solutions from the General Services Agency (GSA) to GDOE.

Additionally, the superintendent asked that senators take the following concerns into consideration:

* Continued support for Simon Sanchez High School renovations. P.L. 34-117 set aside $1.5 million from Fiscal Year 2018 tax amnesty funds, but cash has not been released to support this funding level. The current year’s appropriation also includes $1 million in funding, which may expire soon. GDOE is requesting that the proposed budget law amend P.L. 34-116 to ensure that the $1 million remains available. Fernandez further requested that the full $5 million needed for the SSHS architectural and engineering services be provided in FY 2020.

* Ensure funding for teacher wage study. Fernandez requested that senators provide additional funding for a wage study for teachers to ensure they are provided with fair and appropriate compensation.

* Provide GDOE the authority to seek alternative energy solutions: P.L. 32-95 authorizes the GSA to enter into power purchase agreements on behalf of GDOE schools. However, since its enactment, there has been no progress. GDOE requests for procurement authority to solicit for alternative energy solutions to generate savings.

* Ensure that lease provisions are fully funded. GDOE seeks to ensure that lease provisions for leased school and administrative offices are adequately funded, including insurance and maintenance. This is needed to maintain GDOE’s ability to provide adequate facilities for school populations and to maintain central office functions.

“We look forward to working with the Committee on Appropriations Chairman and appreciate the ongoing support as we work to finalize the FY2020 budget,” Fernandez said. “These suggested revisions would provide the GDOE with the flexibility needed to meet our obligations and support students and teachers this coming school year.”