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Bill proposed to keep Umatac school open

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The Guam Education Board may have thought it was a done deal that F.Q. Sanchez Elementary School would be closed this coming school year, but one lawmaker has stepped in to breathe life into the Umatac campus, as stakeholders of the southern village are looking to take the issue to court.

"I made that commitment to our future leaders, which is the kids; that this is what I'm going to do. I understand that resources and money has a lot to do with this but we can't let that pitfall get in the way of what the children needs," noted Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. In a last-ditch effort to keep the doors of F.Q. Sanchez Elementary School open, the freshman policymaker introduced Bill 257 today.

He said, "We've talked about overcrowding at other schools and how it's hampering the education of students and now we have a school that has a small group of students and they're doing very well and the SAT-10 scores are very high and the teachers are having to 3rd and 4th graders in one classroom and they're still getting an adequate education and we're talking about closing it. It just doesn't sound right to me, it's not logical," he said.

Discussions about closing the Umatac campus have been on the table for several years since a management audit, conducted by Evergreen Solutions, recommended the school's closure to save money. Last week the Guam Education Board voted 5-to-3 to close the school, much to the dismay of stakeholders and Umatac mayor Dean Sanchez, who isn't buying the cost-savings excuse. "Money is not the issue," he expressed. "The way the board has decided to close the school, it was never about money. I believe it's a personal prejudice on the superintendent."

"Discriminatory!" the mayor added. "They have not concluded on where is the cost-savings measure - there's no cost-savings measure. You know, what it amounts to less than $20,000 every year to run F.Q Sanchez."

The legislation would appropriate $157,000 from the 2007 tobacco bond proceeds and give it to the Department of Education to keep the school open, at least for the coming 2011-2012 school year. While he passionately supports the bill, Mayor Sanchez believes it's going to take much more to keep the school open permanently, saying, "It is time to take them to court because this sounds very unfair. I thank the senator for the remedy but we will continue the mission. Because the product itself is only limited we want finality. We want assurance for the lifetime."

Sanchez and others in his village are currently looking for an attorney to represent them in their lawsuit against the Guam Education Board.  With school set to open in almost one month, Senator Rodriguez is hoping to expedite a public hearing on his bill in time for the new school year. "I understand we're in a financial situation, but don't put that burden on top of the kids of F.Q. Sanchez," he said.

Guam Education Board chairman Francis Santos meanwhile says the legislation still isn't enough to keep the school open. Santos said the school's budget started at $864,000 and even after revisions was reduced to $424,000.  He says even if the bill passes, the school would still have educational challenges without a school counselor, nurse and librarian that were cut with the budget. 

He adds the lawmaker should look out for all the students of DOE, as the department is projecting to be short $6 million-$7 million in its current budget.

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