Financial problems continue to mount for GPSS
By Michele Catahay
Published Sep 12, 2008
The problems just keep rolling in at the Guam Public School System. Classes only started about a month ago, and now there's word schools could possibly shut down. The start of the new school year means the start of more problems as GPSS may have to close the gates on public campuses if the Department of Administration doesn't release nearly $3 million dollars to pay its outstanding balance to cover lunch meals for students.
GPSS owes approximately $2.9 million to the Department of Defense Defense Supply Center Philadelphia for 2005 leading up to the present. If that amount isn't paid in full, more than 22,000 students won't be able to have free or reduced lunch and breakfast. Federal programs administrator Ike Santos says GPSS was given notice that it could not place food orders after next week until the money is transferred to them, telling KUAM News, "They literally locked us out of the system in procuring the needed milk (which is fresh fluid milk), eggs, cheese, rice, bread and meat which are critical components that are needed for the school breakfast and lunch program."
While lawmakers passed and Governor Felix Camacho subsequently signed a bill into public law that provided the $2.9 million to settle the debt, Santos is now pleading with the island's chief executive to authorize DOA to release the money to avert schools from shutting down. He says the program has been going on for the last 39 years and this is the first time GPSS has been put on notice.
Explained Santos, "Most of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, as we said. This is the only means of nutritious meals that they get. We are appealing to the governor to allow the payment of $2.9 million to us immediately so we can insure that the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program is not suspended."
According to superintendent Dr. Nerissa Bretania-Shafer, assurances were made to the federal government that they would be wiring the outstanding payment as soon as it was released or by the end of next week, but has yet to receive any funding. "I know that the governor does have compassion for our students. This is not grandstanding," she assured. "This is really about making an appeal. So the students are provided the meals they need and that we wouldn't have to shut down the schools."
Meanwhile, Speaker Judi Won Pat (D) says the money could be available when the entire Government of Guam's budget is passed. She says GPSS could have covered the Child Nutrition Program if the money from the Territorial Education Facilities Fund was paid back by the Administration. ($4 million dollars was used to pay for the Ordot Dump.)
Speaker Won Pat said, "Those monies were paid to pay for the dump. What I'm saying to the Administration since that money was taken and not given to them, and now they're saying they're realizing some extra money is coming in this fiscal year and the revenue is going up [sic]. Then by all means start to pay back the $4 million and first address the Child Nutrition Program."
Dr. Bretania-Shafer's Letter to Governor Camacho