In this pandemic, as the government of Guam revenue collections have fallen short of projections, the Guam Department of Education can expect to receive less money than what it would normally receive from the General Fund.
Any amount withheld from GDOE impacts the nearly 29,000 public school students and their learning.
The U.S. Department of Education can help GDOE with its looming cash constraints. Every year, over the past several years, GDOE has paid a third-party financial monitor to look over GDOE's shoulders because USDOE has required it.
The required third-party monitor isn't cheap.
This year, $2.5 million of GDOE's money goes toward paying this financial monitor, Alvarez & Marsal Public Sector Services.
This monitor has been paid about $25 million over the last several years, said GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez.
USDOE required this financial monitor at a time when GDOE's recording-keeping on its spending and other financial paperwork was a mess. There was a time when the Office of Public Accountability deemed GDOE unauditable because of a lack of proper financial record-keeping.
But those days are over.
Over the past seven audited fiscal years, GDOE has received a "clean audit," as determined by the OPA or the auditors it hires to conduct the audit.
Fernandez pointed this out Wednesday as he mentioned his hope that this year, USDOE will finally remove the requirement for GDOE to remain under the watch of a paid financial monitor the local education department can barely afford.
USDOE is in the middle of weighing this decision. We hope it cuts GDOE some slack and will lift the financial monitor requirement as one of the conditions for GDOE to receive federal funds.
If GDOE no longer has to pay the $2.5 million this year and in succeeding years, that money will help the department afford some of the most basic things.
The local education department could buy a lot of textbooks, energy-efficient air-conditioning units, functioning drinking water fountains, walkway canopies so students won't get soaked in the rain, or security cameras to deter repeat burglaries.
We hope the USDOE officials in Washington, D.C., will finally decide that this money for a financial monitor would be better spent meeting some of the basic needs our public schools are doing without.
We're not begging USDOE for more money. We're asking the federal education department to support its Guam counterpart and use its best judgment that will help rather than hurt our local public schools.
There is a way to continue holding GDOE accountable.
This is the job of Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz. If it helps, an auditor can be added to OPA's staff, to specifically keep watch over GDOE finances.
Hiring an auditor might cost some money, but it will not be $2.5 million in a year or $25 million over several years.
It's a no-brainer. We hope USDOE gets it.