Sen. Chris Barnett, who is chairing the Guam Legislature's committee with oversight on the public school system, didn't mince words after an informal meeting his committee held to identify "what’s going wrong left and right" in the Guam Department of Education.
As a parent of a public school student himself, Barnett said in a press release he was not pleased that the children, their safety and their education were not top priorities, as they should be.
“Money has always been an issue, but GDOE received over $200 million in (American Rescue Plan Act) funds, so money shouldn’t be an issue anymore,” Barnett stated. “As a public school product and parent, I’m upset that we don’t have much to show our people when it comes to meaningful investments into our schools with the federal funds we were fortunate enough to receive. Most of the ARP funds GDOE got went to operations - whether it was to pay for raises, hiring or power bills, the truth is it doesn’t look like our schoolkids are the priority. Under my watch, they have to be. Anything else is unacceptable.”
According to the release, over $100 million in ARP funds originally earmarked for capital improvement projects has dwindled to about $58 million. Much of the money has been spent on operational expenses, due in part to the $25 million price tag for teacher and administration raises and the growing cost of electricity.
Schools such as Oceanview Middle School, F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School and Southern High School are examples of the disrepair of facilities occurring in schools across the island, as shown in recent reports from the Department of Public Health and Social Services.
Students of OMS and FBLG are slated to share other campuses while their home schools undergo repairs and renovations.
“The lifeline for many of these facilities that haven’t been maintained is running out. It’s apparent that changes need to be made across the spectrum of procurements and contracting to ensure our students are learning in safe and healthy environments,” said Sen. Sabina Perez, chair of the Legislature's committee that oversees government procurement.
It was brought to the attention of Barnett's committee that education officials and stakeholders must go over the budget and work together to resolve these issues now and with the money they specifically received for it.
“We need to hold a roundtable discussion to discuss how these funds are being spent and how we can work with GDOE to ensure our schools are receiving the services being paid for,” Perez said. “These are long-standing issues that need to be resolved closely with key stakeholders.”
Barnett intends to conduct issue-specific roundtable discussions in the coming weeks and he has duly informed GDOE leadership and the Guam Education Board, he said in his release.