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No pay cuts for PSS — for now

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GOVERNOR Ralph DLG Torres has assured the Public School System that it will not experience payless paydays and will receive the funds allotted to PSS in the current fiscal year, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said on Wednesday.

“There will be no pay cuts,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Finance, Personnel and Administrative or FPA Committee of the Board of Education discussed three austerity proposals presented by Ada and PSS human resources director Lucretia Borja.

Ada said they came up with the proposals to ensure that PSS would not encounter payless paydays.

“But we were assured that we will not be experiencing that,” he added.

When the FPA committee resumed its meeting on Wednesday, Ada reported that “things have turned around.”

“[Finance Secretary] David Atalig and the governor reiterated that we will not encounter payless paydays,” he said.

Ada said he was also informed by the administration that there are funds for PSS employees’ health and life insurance and other obligations.

For the first quarter of FY 2020, Ada said PSS received a 23 percent instead of a 25 percent allocation, but will receive 27 percent in the second quarter.

PSS acting finance director Kimo Rosario said the central government still owes PSS $900,000 from the first quarter. “But [Atalig] assured us they will be transferring [the amount] this week,” he added.

BOE FPA committee chairwoman MaryLou Ada said the pay schedule should be put in writing and sent to the Finance secretary and the Office of Management and Budget. “Let us have those two letters — we can rely on them. Those will indicate the commitment from the central government to make monthly or quarterly payments.”

The Finance, Personnel and Administrative Committee of the Board of Education resumes its meeting on Wednesday with Public School System officials.  Photo by Lori Lyn C. Lirio

PSS finance consultant Ed Tenorio said the austerity proposals presented on Tuesday were prepared in the event of another across-the-board budget cut.

“But until such time…I don’t think we should be discussing it,” he added.

Commissioner Ada noted that 90 percent of the $37.7 appropriated to PSS, or $34.8 million, goes to personnel payroll while the rest is for school operations.

“I always believe in being proactive and making sure that we have a plan in place,” he added.

He said the current compensation plan of the school system will be drastically affected when the economy slows down and government revenue collection declines.

“Now I am happy to know that we do have a plan. Everyone is now aware of the [austerity schedules]. In case something happens, there will be no surprise,” the education commissioner said.

Rosario, for his part, said PSS must continue “spending money we receive rather than spending money we have yet to receive” because what they receive is based on the government’s actual revenue collections.

“We are only sharing one pot [for payroll and operations]. We don’t want to impose pay cuts in order to increase the operations budget. So we need to monitor expenditures and control spending,” Rosario added.

He noted that for FY 2020, the budget for school operations is $2.9 million only.

Based on past financial data, Rosario said PSS needs at least $4 million for school operations.

But he said future supplemental appropriations, the $700,000 reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the $745,000 appropriated by the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation will provide needed funding for school operations.

“But again, if we don’t watch or control our spending, we will end up [imposing salary cuts],” he added.

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