GEB to Legislature: Prioritize Guam’s students

Guam Department of Education (PNC file photo)

Guam – Guam Education Board members are united in their mission to prioritize the island’s public school students, and they want legislators to side with them.

Last Friday’s special meeting at GEB’s Tiyan headquarters resulted in a unanimous vote to approve Resolution 2018-12: an urgent plea for senators to place education as a top priority for 2019, regardless of which revenue solution they ultimately enact.

GEB’s document detailed the department’s fiscal history, beginning with the $226 million DOE was allotted for 2018. In January, however, following President Trump’s tax cuts, Education was issued a memorandum from the Bureau of Budget and Management Research that placed  their share of the islandwide budget reduction at $19.6 million dollars.

As a result, DOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez was forced to effectuate several cost-cutting measures that would take place in phases. Phase 1, which was put in motion midway through the schoolyear, included delaying the expansion of the prekindergarten program and diverting funding from textbook, library and other special funds to operations.

Phases 2 and 3 were more severe. They included plans to delay the start of schoolyear 2019 to October 1, as well as implement a 32-hour work week. Thankfully, these proposals were offset with the passage of Public Law 34-87, which stabilized the department’s operations for the remainder of 2018 and allowed for a timely first day of school for 2019.

On July 3, DOE took another blow when BBMR proposed downsizing their budget from $226 million to $161 million for 2019 — an almost 30% reduction from 2018’s funding level. This potential crippling loss is resurfacing the tough conversations that GEB members had earlier this year.

Taking an unbiased and optimistic stance, Fernandez says he remains hopeful that senators will find a way to alleviate DOE’s ongoing and future budget crises.

One of the options being considered is Speaker BJ Cruz’s Bill 323-34, which includes a 5.5% Business Privilege Tax and appropriates $231.9 million for GDOE. The other is Governor Calvo’s Bill 237-34, which would fund GDOE at $213.6 million.