A board member is against a recently introduced piece of legislation that would give the body more authority to manage the island’s public school system.
Democrat Sen. Joe San Agustin, on May 12, introduced Bill 117-37, which if passed would reorganize the Guam Education Board to become a governing body over the Guam Department of Education.
This legislative act has sparked controversy.
Mary Okada, the chairperson of the Guam Education Board, is not in support of the legislation.
In a statement to the Pacific News Center, she said, “I need to understand the intent. On the surface, I am not in support of this. That is my personal opinion. I am hoping to discuss with Sen. San Agustin. I am hoping for an alternative solution.”
The GEB currently can approve the policies, budget, and appropriations of GDOE. The measure states, the current rules prevent the body from “properly addressing issues of Operations, Federal Grants, and Capital Improvement Projects.”
Meanwhile, Democrat Sen. Chris Barnett, the chairperson of the legislative committee on education, in an interview with PNC, said that he wasn’t aware the bill was going to be introduced.
“I honestly didn’t know that this measure was going to be introduced but it is what it is,” said Barnett. “This conversation has been given weight because we heard from the current Guam Education Board that they don’t have the tools necessary to really go in and affect operations because they are a policy board. Every time we have a hearing there is at least one or two board members who bring this up, if we are able to manage operations things would be different.”
According to PNC archives, the GEB once was a governing body, where it handled the affairs of GDOE. However, the powers were taken away due to micromanaging and poor management of the public education agency.
If the bill passes, the GEB would also be in charge of selecting and supporting GDOE’s superintendents, submitting annual budgets to the Guam Legislature, establishing student policies, just to name a few.
Although Barnett does not have a stance on the piece of legislation yet, he is cautious.
“I just want to keep people’s memory that the reason we took this power away from the school board is because they abuse these powers that some of my colleagues are trying to give back,” he said. “What I want to be careful of is there is a reason we took these powers away from the school board and I want to remember that is because they were micromanaging the department.”
The Office of Public Accountability recently released the results of an investigative audit in early-April 2023 that shows more than $640 thousand in overtime pay were made to ineligible employees, which was a concern for the OPA.
Barnett said that this incident could push the legislative measure forward.
“I do think that recent events with GDOE management with the scathing audit and I am thinking that there will be more audits gives credence to this bill,” he said. “They give these ideas like this life. What I think we need to do is find somewhere in the middle ground. I am looking to the public hearing process if this conversation measure gets to the floor. I think it is going to get hardy.”
While he doesn’t have a position on the bill, he’s open to seeing how the process unfolds.
“As this conversation moves forward and we go through the public hearing process I am eager to hear from all sides of it,” Barnett said. “I don’t really tend to make decisions on an issue.”
As PNC previously reported, Judith Won Pat, the acting superintendent of GDOE, hopes the legislative act is withdrawn. She said, removing the current rules and regulations of the board would be “problematic.”
PNC reached out to Sen. San Agustin for comment but has not received a response as of news time.
The bill is co-sponsored by Democrat Sens. Roy Quinata, Dwayne San Nicolas, William Parkinson, and Vice Speaker Tina Barnes.