NEWS: Education board leaders turn on PSS as Torres cronies flourish
By Johnnie Rosario
The Commissioner of Education, Dr. Alfred Ada, and the chairwoman of the Board of Education Janice Tenorio want the teachers and Public School System staff they are supposed to defend and support to continue to sacrifice at the whims of Gov. Ralph Torres's efforts to cull PSS.
In a meeting of the board today, Ms. Tenorio and her vice chairman Herman Atalig explained their desire for PSS to give up its constitutional autonomy in light of the fiscal crisis facing the government, and to undertake the sacrifices Mr. Torres and Secretary of Finance David Atalig, Jr. prefer for PSS to make.
Ms. Tenorio and Mr. Atalig, who are tied politically to Mr. Torres, both voted against the PSS injunction against the governor for the governor to remit to PSS what is constitutionally mandated. They were outvoted by commissioners MaryLou Ada, Phillip Mendiola-Long, and Andrew Orsini and the injunction was filed.
Mr. Torres blamed the three board members by name in a letter to retirees in recent weeks, when he informed retirees that he would not pay their 25 percent entitlement. The governor said he could not afford the cost because of the injunction, though the matter still is before the court.
A fiscal realignment plan published March 31 by the Governor's Office and prepared since the start of the year, however, shows the plan to cut the retirees's pay as a result of payroll costs that doubled since Mr. Torres took office, and mounting earmarks of fund sources throughout the Torres administration.
The PSS was carved out of the Executive Branch by the Commonwealth Constitution in order to protect its institutional autonomy and prioritize funding to education. The commissioners are the trustees of these mandates, though the two leaders of the board have opted to forsake their constituents and align politically with the governor.
They did so again, when the board voted on a resolution to request a loan from the Marianas Public Lands Trust for operational liquidity that will allow the payments to teachers and PSS staff. Mr. Atalig said that though they had made the initial inquiry, he voted against the resolution in the end because he did not want to give teachers and staff false hope.
His statements were premised on a letter from MPLT chairman Martin Ada suggesting that a loan from MPLT to PSS may not be used for operational purposes.
At the end of his letter, however, Martin Ada stated:
"[O]ur door is still open for further discussions if the PSS Board can come up with a workable proposal for their present financial situation."
The untenable financial situation PSS finds itself in is in stark contrast to the financial windfall of federal funds Mr. Torres is using to protect the jobs and the livelihood of his office, cabinet, and cronies.