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PSS chief: No teacher layoffs, but work hours will be cut again

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EDUCATION Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said Public School System teachers and other employees will not be laid off, but their work hours will be reduced further.

He said he wrote a letter dated March 20, 2020 to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan, stating that PSS “will no longer receive any local funds for the remainder of the fiscal year,” which will end on Sept. 30, 2020.

“Consequently, I am left with no choice but to terminate our entire staff of 1,000 plus employees, including teachers, teacher aids, counselors, librarians, support staff and special education staff, unless I can find the money to pay them,” Ada stated in his letter, adding: “If I do not receive additional funds, terminations will go into effect on April 3.”

But he added it was “a draft letter” that has to be approved by the Board of Education first before he can send it to Kilili.

“I don’t know how it leaked... there won’t be any layoffs, but we are looking at reducing more hours,” Ada said.

The goal is to reduce PSS’ biweekly budget from $1.3 million to $750,000, he added.

Out of 1,000 PSS employees, only 200 are federally funded, Ada said. “We need to find money for the 800 locally funded [employees]. We are looking at different scenarios. Again, it has to go through the board first. If we have to reduce our salaries…then we will have to do that because it is better than nothing.”

Ada said PSS may implement furloughs.

“Furlough means upon availability of funds, but you still keep your job. Layoff means you are dismissed, but again we don’t want to lay off anybody,” he added.

In his draft letter, Ada asked Kilili to help lift the restrictions on the federal educational funds that PSS receives.

Those funds, Ada said, could be used for the operational needs of PSS without restrictions.

“I understand that this waiver is unprecedented and extraordinary, but the world is facing an extraordinary crisis and the CNMI PSS is on the front lines. The use of these funds will allow the CNMI PSS to continue to pay its teachers and staff while the schools are closed so that once they reopen, we will be able to provide education to our children without interruption,” Ada stated in his letter.

Distance education

On Monday, Ada announced that the public schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year.

“As part of the PSS’ aggressive effort to prevent the spread of the fatal coronavirus into public schools and the community, the remainder of the current school year 2019-2020 classroom instructions will be taught through the Distance Education program,” Ada stated.

He said all 20 elementary, middle, and high school campuses and all 10 Head Start and Early Head Start centers on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota will remain closed until it is safe for all students to return.

“We are expanding our PSS Distance Education program to allow for all our 10,000-plus students to continually avail [themselves] of our public education services, which were disrupted by the growing threat of Covid-19 pandemic on our small island community,” the commissioner said.

On March 23-25, Ada said PSS will finalize its Distance Education program plan.

He noted that Distance Education was established almost 10 years ago as a pioneering technology-based learning program. PSS was the first in the Pacific region to develop a curriculum-based online classroom learning, he said.

“The health and well-being of all our public education stakeholders — students, teachers, staff, and personnel — will always remain paramount in our aggressive work to combat the spread of this fatal Covid-19 virus,” Ada said, adding that the closure of the campuses for the rest of the school year means “life, safety, health and well-being for every person in the CNMI.”

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