COVID-19 differential pay for GDOE teachers not likely

SETTING UP: D.L. Perez Elementary School second grade teacher Elizabeth Taijeron sets up an interactive whiteboard on Aug. 12 as she makes final classroom preparations for the first day of school. The Guam Department of Education has said that teachers will not receive differential pay for working during the pandemic. Post file photo. 

For the last 2 1/2 years, teachers have been on the front lines of the pandemic, educating roughly 26,000 public school students, but unlike health and safety professionals who also were on the front lines, public school teachers were not compensated with COVID-19 differential pay or hazardous pay.

In September, Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez said additional compensation such as COVID-19 differential pay is not in GDOE’s plan.

He said compensation such as hazardous pay is a function requiring authorization under public law or executive order through COVID-19 differential.

“Employees were paid differential owed under (Executive Order) 2020-08. Some were paid under our federal funds. For those who were directed to report to the governor, the governor's office agreed to compensate those employees. Prior to the executive order, no differential was authorized,” Fernandez said.

Guam Department of Education school nurses received an increment of 15% plus 10% COVID-19 differential pay based on their location during the pandemic through executive order.

Teachers were not included.

Speaker Therese Terlaje told The Guam Daily Post, the governor’s executive order allowed for COVID-19 differential pay for varying degrees of potential exposure out of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funds.

"GDOE was entitled to request and apply this pay as applicable. Additional compensation if warranted should be made by GDOE from its millions in federal funds it received for food delivery and pandemic educational needs," Terlaje said.  Further, the American Rescue Plan guidelines specifically allow for use to compensate essential workers, and I support use of these funds by the governor for these purposes. GDOE’s departure from its own rules to require extra loads or double modes must be addressed by GDOE.”

Although senators included a provision in the fiscal year 2022 budget to review regular teacher pay similar to the wage study conducted for nurses. The governor delayed the wage study until 2023.

"As front liners, teachers have faced uncertain working conditions, taken on new responsibilities and adapted to educate our future generations," Sen. Mary Camacho Torres said. "Like others in the health care community, the pandemic has only underscored the need to compensate our educators adequately.”

It now appears the boat has sailed on the opportunity to provide teachers additional pay through executive order.

The governor's communications director Krystal Paco-San Agustin, in lieu of a written response to questions regarding COVID-19 differential pay, shared the executive orders issued by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

EO 2020-08 established COVID-19 response differential pay in April 2020. Part of the executive order included essential GovGuam employees whose work could expose them to the coronavirus. These employees were authorized temporary differential pay. There were three categories: 

• Category 1, 25% pay differential to essential employees in the course of their duties were in direct contact or in close physical proximity to a population infected with or may be reasonably suspected to be infected with COVID-19. Positions covered included health care providers, public safety/law enforcement and other positions performing essential critical mission duties.

• Category 2, afforded 15% differential pay to essential employees providing humanitarian services or direct public assistance to the general public.

• Category 3, afforded 10% differential pay to essential employees whose positions do not allow them to telework and are mandated to perform their job duties at a physical worksite, required by the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Executive Order 2020-16, Category 3 expired June 1, 2020, and EO 2021-03 set the expiration date for Category 2 at Feb. 1, 2021.

GDOE teacher shortages decades-old issue

GDOE has been historically challenged with the recruitment and retention of teachers.

In 2014, many teachers got some increase as a result of the Competitive Wage Act. However, the larger wage increases were for newer teachers. Some veteran teachers with more than 10 years of experience saw increases of a few dollars a paycheck, stated Post files.

It’s been seven years, and while senators and education officials have noted the need to adequately compensate teachers, no new plan has materialized.

In October, GDOE’s FY 2022 budget spending plan included funding for a wage study. Fernandez had indicated that they would coordinate with the governor’s office and start the study as soon as possible.

However, Fernandez noted recently that no update has been received regarding a teacher wage study.

On Nov. 15, GDOE reported 80 teacher vacancies, identifying 32 elementary teacher vacancies and 48 secondary teacher vacancies.

Last weekend, GDOE hosted a job fair hoping to fill those teacher vacancies as well as roughly 300 teacher support positions.

“We are working to expedite the hiring of these positions. The community program aides are new positions to support schools (they are not vacant positions). The one-to-one aides are determined by the number of students who require an aide per their (individualized education program). We have 86 vacant substitute positions and hope to fill them all. These are locally funded but accounted for in the board's approved spending plan,” Fernandez said.

No additional job fairs are scheduled at this time.


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