GFT lawyer calls DOE offset "smoke & mirrors" - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

GFT lawyer calls DOE offset "smoke & mirrors"

by Nick Delgado

Guam - The confusion as to how the Guam Department of Education will get the millions of dollars needed to pay the more than 2,000 teachers for furloughs remains. The Guam Education Policy Board in a special meeting Thursday evening directed DOE Superintendent Dr. Nerissa Bretania Underwood to find out the exact costs and settle the issue.

The initial numbers DOE is working with equate to about $3.8 million. However, Guam Federation of Teachers legal counsel Attorney Robert Kutz says that's just a base number, and the school system will need to calculate interest along with attorney fees. Kutz estimates the amount owed to be just more than $5 million for the settlement.

He told KUAM News, "Find out who the teachers are for sure, find out how much is owed to them, calculate the numbers figure in attorney's fees, and I'm considering a statue this is brought under and come up with a number, and then as I understand figure out how to get that paid."

It was in 2003 the school board pushed back the school year resulting in the furloughs. Kutz says the payments are overdue as both the courts and the Civil Service Commission ruled in favor of it. DOE Legal Counsel Fred Nishihara raised concern that in 1999, DOE paid out more money than it should have when the calendar was moved up to July because of the South Pacific Games.  DOE is hoping to offset these payments by collecting from teachers what was overpaid and using those monies to pay for furloughs.

But Kutz feels otherwise, saying, "This concept that they have to go through to calculate all this offset - one against the other - in my opinion is a smoke and mirror tactic to try to drive the price down for the people who got the money coming. If the government wanted to collect that, they should have done it way back in 1998, but no action was taken at all."

He also that DOE should stay the course in settling the full amount owed to avoid having the issue go to court, as he says a hearing has been scheduled before Judge Alberto Lamorena on June 7.  "If there are any teachers that need to be paid, we certainly need to expedite the payment for those teachers," he said.

Dr. Underwood says she will act expeditiously to find ways to pay the teachers, she admits that officials at Adelup dropped the ball when they transferred an initial legislative appropriation for the furloughs. Underwood says Public Law 29-52 granted DOE more than $4 million for the employee furloughs, vendor payments and retirement contributions. However, the monies instead were transferred by Governor Felix Camacho to fund the new landfill in Layon.

Underwood says the problem is that the money was only given back through Public Law 29-102, but the law states that the funds could only be used specifically for DOE school operations.  "My understanding is that wasn't released to DOE, and so if it wasn't released to DOE then we need to determine whether we can still use that."

Underwood says certain steps must now be taken as she has been directed by the GEPB to pay the teachers. But she admits that the plan to do so remains up in the air, saying, "The board members have clearly made a statement last night that this should have been done yesterday, so that gives me my marching orders."

We'll just have to wait and see where those marching orders will take the superintendent and whether it will lead to these teachers finally getting a check for what's owed to them.

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