Tuesday marked the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year for about 30,000 students at the Guam Department of Education, and while the first day of classes began smoothly, there was a bit of a hiccup by the end of the day.
GDOE Superintendent Jon Fernandez, associate superintendents and other administrators were out monitoring schools. The morning went by without any major issues, Fernandez said, but busing was delayed at Untalan Middle School in the afternoon.
Fernandez was on site to monitor the situation, according to GDOE spokeswoman Isa Baza.
"We recognize there is often an increase in traffic on the first day of school ... GDOE will work with (the Department of Public Works) to ensure bus operations improve and run smoothly," she said.
DPW services both public and private schools.
Some capital improvement issues also linger into the school year. Canopy repair and replacement at three schools are still ongoing. GDOE knew the time frame to complete the projects was going to be difficult to meet, Fernandez said. While the department encountered some delays, it has focused on getting as much of the work done over the past week to ensure safe passage for students, he added.
A major project completed, with DPW's help, was the demolition of the condemned annex at Benavente Middle School, Fernandez said.
Beyond that are air conditioning concerns. Last year, Tamuning Elementary School experienced a major breakdown of its system. Addressing that meant using funding for air condition maintenance for the rest of the fiscal year, Fernandez said.
Part of the issue is contractual - GDOE can only increase contractual costs by about 10%. But the department doesn't have the funding to do that anyway, Fernandez said. GDOE is waiting for a contract renewal, and a renewal of financial resources, next fiscal year.
There were three classroom without air conditioning at Agana Heights Elementary School, where Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero visited Tuesday morning.
Air conditioning is part of the Every Child is Entitled to an Adequate Education mandate that GDOE must meet by law. GDOE's proposed budgets every year are a reflection of those mandates. The department has almost always been shorted by as much as $100 million by the time budget discussions are over. GDOE requested $324 million for the current fiscal year, but was only appropriated $220 million, which had to be shared with charter schools.
Even then, what is appropriated hasn't always been fully provided to GDOE because of shortfalls in special funds, such as the Territorial Education Facilities Fund.
"My rule has always been to give them all of what they're appropriated and not hold any funds back," Leon Guerrero said. "We're doing that now ... It's a way to provide supplies and the necessary tools and resources for the teachers and also the kids."
The government of Guam is tracking to end fiscal year 2019 at 4% above budgeted revenues. But If there is excess funding, the government will put it into eliminating the deficit, Leon Guerrero said.
"That's where it normally goes, even in past fiscal year budgets," she added.