Governor steps in to bail out DOE - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Governor steps in to bail out DOE

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - While the Department of Education has threatened to furlough over 500 federally funded employees, apparently the Governor's Office has found a solution to keep these employees on board. A meeting was held this afternoon with the governor, the superintendent, and the Guam Education Policy Board.

Jesus Tainatongo's grandchildren attend Southern High School. He says the financial situation at DOE is directly impacting students, telling KUAM News, "It's a sad thing what's happening right now. The reason I say this is because the kids are hurting right now. And I hope one of these days, our leaders will come out and do something about it and the parents too should support the school rather than saying something that isn't helping."

On Monday, DOE threatened to furlough 515 federally-funded employees. It was then that superintendent Dr. Nerissa Bretania Underwood said her agency will not receive enough local funds to cover salaries and payroll vendors. Today, Bretania Underwood and the GEPB met with Governor Felix Camacho and the Department of Administration to find a solution. The superintendent says she shared with the chief executive the challenges with cash releases.

She received assurances that DOE will have enough funds from property taxes to avert these furloughs, saying, "They have actually expressed hope that there will be enough collections over the next few days and hopefully by the weekend, so that they would be able to release to us enough to cover payroll and that's basically what we're being hopeful about."

She added, "We were told that they will release $1.6 million, so if they do release that to us, then we should be able to handle the payroll and plus all the payroll obligations that we have pending from the previous pay period."

As for whether she still plans to issue out the notices, Bretania Underwood says she won't be sending them out today, noting, "We have the letters and I have signed the letters, but I want to hold off because if we're able to get enough funds and actually meet the payroll needs, then they really shouldn't be receiving the letter."

In the meantime, newly-elected board chairman Ronald Ayuyu says he wants to ensure students aren't affected by the cash crisis at the department, saying, "We've got alterative schools that are federally funded in Santa Rita. If that school could close down, even if it's a couple of days, we got to amend our calendar again for them and that would be another work but we don't want to do that yet."

DOE isn't out of the woods just yet - the agency is still waiting to hear back from USDOE on whether it could draw down carry-over funds to cover programs. For the last several months, DOE has been forced to juggle its funds to cover operations and payroll. Bretania Underwood says while the Attorney General's Office is reviewing the draft request for proposal to hire a third-party fiduciary agent, she hopes to hear back from the feds in the coming days.

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