Politicos cite poverty, politics, and costly health screening as barriers to education

PNC file photo of Sen. Dennis Rodriguez.

Gov candidates sound off on schooling

Guam – Public schools are still crumbling and the local community college and university are still fighting for every penny to stay viable and competitive. Sensing the electorate’s demand for better managed education, gubernatorial candidates are taking to the airwaves to discuss education policy.

Hoping to break through the platitudes and lip service bandied about every election year, the Superintendent himself has been inviting gubernatorial contenders into the Newstalk K57 radio studios at Broadcast Center Acanta to discuss the topic in more fruitful detail.

This morning three candidates expressed their views on schools with stand-in radio host Jon Fernandez, Superintendent of the Department of Education.

With a campaign focused on free college tuition, incumbent Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio (R) still insists that quality education is the way out of poverty and a life of crime for too many island residents struggling to survive at the crossroads of crisis and opportunity.

“And I want to see more and more people who are graduating from high school, in the future, be able to get into college, ‘cause a lot of parents struggle from payday to payday just to be able to make ends meet,” Tenorio said. “Tuition is a dream for many of them, but how many people -but for education- can receive their fullest potential?”

“I think that’s a really good question,” Fernandez said.

Identifying with the daily struggles of everyday people, Tenorio told Fernandez he, himself, once failed a class and had to enroll in summer school. But after achieving his master’s degree from the University of Guam, Lt. Gov. Tenorio said he owes his entire career to education and says he wouldn’t be serving at the executive level of island government without it.

Legislative Health Committee Chairman Sen. Dennis Rodriguez (D) told Fernandez healthcare and education are closely linked. When he realized that some kids weren’t going to school, because their parents couldn’t afford the required health screening exams, his own family started the Todu Guam Foundation to take healthcare to the villages, so kids can be certified ‘healthy enough’ to learn their lessons  and play sports.

“We have this mobile clinic that goes around to the villages. And we’ve been doing that now for the past two, three years now,” Rodriguez said.

“And what it is, is we provide free immunizations, we provide free physical health checks to students. And I tell you, it’s amazing because, you know, a lot of people don’t really realize that our kids don’t have access…for one reason or the other, whether they don’t have health insurance, whether it’s too costly for their parents to get the physical checks.”

Former governor Carl Gutierrez said the Office of Governor has far too little ‘say so’ in the education of students ranking pre-K to high school. According to Gutierrez, local education needs to adjust to changing demographic realities by estimating the costly impact on the local public school system of more and more students from Chuuk and the Freely Associated States of Micronesia. Gutierrez has long been an advocate for FAS citizens and their families.

Superintendent Fernandez said school demographics have shifted within the last three to four years. FAS migrants have surpassed Filipino students as the second largest category of students attending public schools. Chamorro students still comprise the highest numbers of enrollees.

Gutierrez reminded listeners that Guam once received as much as $18 million a year from the Dept. of Defense to absorb the impact of military-dependent children, but no longer does. DOD started its own school system after the local Board of Education wrested control of schools from the office of the governor in the mid-1990’s.

“And then, when I became governor, that contract was still in place for about a year left,” Gutierrez said. “DOD came to see me and asked me if I was going to honor Gov. [Joseph] Ada’s contract with them to work directly with the chief executive, and I said I would, but the Board of Education did not want to.

“So they [DOD] came and gave me the last check and said, ‘here, we’re out of here!’ You cannot go through the board when you’ve got maybe nine people that you’ve got to work with – it’s difficult for [DOD] to sign a contract with the board.”