Article published June 5, 2006
Pacific Daily News, Guam

The school year in education

The 2005-2006 school year has been a tumultuous period for public education. The following is a look back at some of the bigger issues public education faced.

Money matters

In an effort to ensure the school system receives all of the money it was appropriated this fiscal year, lawmakers required that 83.2 percent of withholding taxes the government collects per month would go toward the school system. However, government collections have been low and have fluctuated every month, which has resulted in an unstable source of revenue. Last month, school officials estimated a $21 million shortfall by the end of the fiscal year, which is in October.

Direct Instruction

Some school officials have partially attributed improved standardized test scores to the Direct Instruction reading program, a method of teaching using repetition and scripted classroom lessons. But some parents and teachers have voiced complaints that schools dedicate too much time to the program and not enough on other subjects. The Guam Education Policy Board voted in January not to continue the second reading block, raising a debate about the merits of the program. This, along with the board not renewing Superintendent Juan Flores’ contract, prompted an employee and grandparent, Sheila Salas, to begin a movement to recall individual members of the board. In April, the board reversed its decision to discontinue the second reading block after federal officials threatened a reduction in federal funding.

Teacher salaries

The Department of Administration was assigned to do a comprehensive salary review for teachers to see how the government can match the national average pay. The review recommended a 14-percent increase in salaries based on a comparison of three national surveys of 2004 national averages to current local salaries. The raise would cost the government about $16 million more. However, the Guam Federation of Teachers raised concerns that since 2004, teachers nationwide have gotten increments and raises and questioned why a more recent figure wasn’t used. Administration officials said more recent figures weren’t available, and Sen. Robert Klitzkie asked the department to review 2004 national salaries with local 2004 salaries to get a more accurate figure.

The school board vs. Juan Flores

The elected school board and the former superintendent, Juan Flores, were at odds throughout the school year, most notably on the Direct Instruction issue. The board also voted to not renew Flores’ contract, which was to end in August, because he had an unsatisfactory rating in his performance review. Board members also have said there is ambiguity in the law that created the board’s duties. Flores and the board often clashed on issues of policymaking and operations.

Explosions shock northern school

Two explosions April 28 at Simon Sanchez High School injured three students, and prompted a high school-wide ban on bags and plastic bottles. The explosions came from plastic bottles with vinegar and baking soda. The ban angered many parents and students, while others supported the ban, believing it provided for the safety of the students. The ban is in effect until the end of the school year.

Juan Flores fired

An argument over the ban on bags and plastic bottles led to Flores abruptly leaving a regular Guam Education Policy Board meeting May 11. Flores later said he was feeling ill. The meeting ran into the early morning hours, and shortly after 2 a.m., the board voted to fire Flores and appoint Luis Reyes as the interim superintendent. The firing prompted angry comments toward the board from Gov. Felix Camacho, and brought about a call for a change in how the board is organized. Sen. Larry Kasperbauer introduced Bill 313, which would create a partly elected, partly appointed school board and allow for the governor to appoint a superintendent. Flores has said he is speaking with his attorney on what, if any, legal actions he can take.

Adequate education = $203 million

The Guam Public School System is asking for $203 million for the next fiscal year. That figure would be the largest budget the department has ever had, and school officials are confident it is enough money to address the requirements of the Every Child is Entitled to an Adequate Public Education Act. The budget request was formed after school and district meetings with parents, administrators and teachers. The government has until Oct. 1, 2007, to meet the law’s 14 standards or else be held legally liable.


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