Education budget hearings continue

By Jason M. Goldman-Hall
Variety News Staff

HAGÅTÑA — The Department of Education’s budget hearings continued at the Guam Legislature yesterday, as DOE’s needs again weighed in against the abilities of the current budget — and its $21 million deficit.

After saying yesterday that the department’s requests needed to be a case of “need” alone, Sen. Ray Tenorio, R-Yigo, proposed an amendment to give the department the $166 million that it asked for with a new budget they presented on Monday.

Education Superintendent Juan Flores repeatedly fell back on the resolution amount passed by the Education Policy Board as the absolute minimum amount needed to provide education to the children of Guam.

After the amendment was voted down, Flores said some of his department’s services — including goals to give each student the needed textbooks, adequate classrooms and qualified teachers — would possibly be compromised by the lack of funding, although they will continue to attempt to make do with what they are given, including raising accountability and reassessing needs and spending.

The normally jovial, easy-going group of lawmakers— a trait pointed out by Sen. Rory J. Respicio as one of his colleagues passed around a bag of popcorn — spent the hours leading up to the vote in heated discussion about the amendment.

After its proposition, the amendment was challenged by Respicio, D-Chalan Pago, who said that while he would like to give whatever amount needed to DOE, the current — and unbalanced — budget did not have the means to accomplish it.

He then directed his questioning toward Tenorio.

“If we’re going to increase the Department of Education budget to $166 million, I would like the amendment’s mover to identify — in writing — from what agencies these appropriations will be taken from to make up for the shortfall,” Respicio said.

In defense, Tenorio and Sen. Robert Klitzkie said that since the budget is still being discussed, the money should be taken from any of the items that come after it on the budget.

Klitzkie, R-Yigo, suggested that the Legislature place education at the top of the list, appropriate what money it needs, and then work their way down the list from there.

After the vote, Sen. Randall Cunliffe, D-Tamuning, reiterated that one of his reservations about giving more money to the Department of Education stems from the fact that there has not been an audit of the department’s spending for the last seven years, and that there is little accountability on behalf of the department for how money is being spent.

“I’m not prepared — as a responsible senator — to throw good money after bad,” Cunliffe said.

After the vote, a visibly disappointed Tenorio said the Legislature missed an opportunity to “put their money where their mouth is,” in respect to the education funding.

“The $166 million is not a matter of luxury, it was not a matter of what they would like to see, it cut down to the very core of the issue — the needs of the kids,” he said. “I wonder what would happen if the Legislature didn’t have aircon for a day, or didn’t have paper to print all these bills.”

After discussions ended on that topic, the Department of Education officials present left the hearings for a prior engagement, and discussion moved away from education, to other sections of Bill 92. Discussions today were scheduled to begin with representatives from the Guam Visitors Bureau to answer the senators’ questions.


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