Student Safety Above All Else
By Governor Eddie Baza Calvo
Hafa Adai My Fellow Guamanians,
Last week, a student was rushed to the Guam Memorial Hospital after an accident at Untalan Middle School. In light of this, Public Health officials could no longer trust the Department of Education's assurances that the school was safe. And after an inspection last week, they found enough demerits to warrant closure of the school.
This isn't an issue that began overnight. My administration has been working with education officials, raising concerns and discussing solutions to these safety issues. But our concerns seemed to always to be pushed to the backburner by education officials, the board and some of my own colleagues in the Guam Legislature.
One of the first things I did when I came into office, was to go to Washington and meet with Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan to save $60 million in ARRA funding that was about to be lost from DOE because of inaction. Well, it's been one year and not one dollar has been spent on Untalan Middle School or any other school for ARRA funding.
Take a look at the bathroom on the screen right now. Take a good look.
Madame Superintendent, Mr. Board Chairman and the Ways and Means Chairman of the Legislature: would you certify that this bathroom is safe and healthy? Would you use this bathroom every day?
By the way, that picture was taken just a few days ago while you were having your meeting. I'm extremely disappointed that there has been a failure to act when these are the conditions students must endure every day.
There is a time for diplomacy and a time for action. This never was about politics but it has become political for some of those that have spoken against what we have been doing. The students have been waiting long enough for DOE, both the board and management and the senators that have been so critical.
As a parent, and as a leader, I refuse to wait any longer. And if you see the pictures taken at Untalan Middle School just last week, and I ask members of the Board, DOE and management and the senators now watching, to look at that screen, I think you would agree.
I cannot in good conscience, wait for another student to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I will not wait for tragedy to force this government into action. The only question we should be asking about Untalan Middle School, or any school for that matter… it should be clear: are we putting student safety above cost?
My fellow Guamanians, I will do everything in my power for students because I truly believe that when it comes to children, money will not dictate the measures we will take to ensure their safety and their wellbeing.
I'm appalled that certain lawmakers want to question whether or not $4.5 million in tax credits at a seven percent interest rates is cost effective… My answer would be a resounding "yes." Our students are worth that and so much more. It's interesting that senators are so concerned about $4.5 million for schools, yet I haven't seen one oversight hearing on that $40 million deficit that this ways and means chairman, and his committee and those critics in the legislature left behind for this administration in October.
When there is a solution on the table to transfer students from an unsafe campus to a much safer learning environment, our decision should come without question. My administration continues to field accusations and concerns about money, contract details, amendment agreements and motives. But where is the concern for the safety and wellbeing of the students? Where are our island leaders' concern for the young girl who was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance last week? Where is the concern for other potential accidents that might occur? What will we ask of ourselves if a student's injury cannot be fixed in one visit to the hospital?
Take a good look at the screen right now.
I will stand by every decision we must make to ensure that every student, at every school on this island is safe.
Take a look at the screen one more time.
How many more accidents will we have to see before criticisms are no longer about cost? What has to happen for lawmakers to become proactive in these solutions instead of being reactive and critical of my administration's efforts to get things done?
Lawmakers, Mr. Chairman of ways and means, madam speaker: you are the policy makers.
To the parents of students at Untalan Middle School: I cannot tell you how difficult these decisions are. I know that your child's education is being interrupted in the middle of the school year. I know the school's closure will cause some major inconveniences. But please understand that your child's safety is the most important priority at this time. You have my word that every second of instructional time will be made up.
To every hardworking parent of every student in our public school system: know that this administration has your child's best interests in mind and we had it since the first minute we got into office. I will take action if those entrusted with your children's lives do not. I will use every means available and explore every corner of the Organic Act to keep our children safe.
Cost and interest rates will never take priority above student safety.
Politics will never come before principle.
Take one more look at that screen. Take a good look at it.
And to all those board members of the department of education, management and senators who have been critical of the actions of this administration.
Take a good look at the screen right now and ask yourselves: have you been working with us on those solutions? And if you have, I continue to look forward to working with you. And I welcome you to continue working with me in issues affecting the department o education and our schools.
To those board members who now, are questioning the actions of this administration and who believe that you've effectively done your job, and that these conditions are safe for our students, take a look at that picture one more time.
If you believe that is satisfactory, then please, take my offer:
I expect your resignations on my desk, first thing Tuesday morning.