U.S. DOE withholding funds:
Feds want AG's opinion on who governs GPSS
By Beau Hodai
Pacific Daily News
September 8, 2008
The Guam Public School System won't receive any of the nearly $40 million in federal funds it expects to receive until it's clear who governs the school system.
GPSS Superintendent Nerissa Bretania-Shafer yesterday said she had been contacted by U.S. DOE Risk Management Services Director Philip Maestri on Saturday. He informed her U.S. DOE wouldn't provide any federal funding for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, unless Guam's Office of the Attorney General provides an opinion as to who has authority over the school system.
"Even though the funds may be delayed a few days, these are issues that need to be clarified," Bretania-Shafer said, noting that Maestri has repeatedly praised the progress the school system has made in meeting its corrective action plan.
The school system will maintain its high-risk grantee status unless it completes the corrective action plan requirements, which includes improving financial accountability and correcting procurement shortfalls.
Bretania-Shafer said a conference call has been scheduled for 7 a.m. Tuesday between Attorney General Alicia Limtiaco, Maestri and other members of U.S. DOE. The superintendent said she is optimistic that the AG's office will respond quickly.
Bretania-Shafer said this latest concern from federal education officials came on the heels of a letter she and the Guam Education Policy Board sent to Maestri in late August. She said the primary issue was related to protocol in dealing with the handling of federal funds.
"I have purview over federal funds. The (Guam Education Policy Board) has purview over me, but not over federal funds," said Bretania-Shafer. "How could (the board) hold me fully accountable when dealing with something that they are prohibited from dealing with?"
She also said DOE officials were unclear over what role the governor has in regards to the oversight and governance of GPSS.
The school system receives about $40 million in federal funds each year. With fiscal 2008 ending Sept. 30, money for federally funded programs will soon run out.
Some GPSS programs that stand to lose funding include special education, the Reading First program, the English as a Second Language program, Direct Instruction and Success for All, among others.
Bretania-Shafer said school officials have been considering alternatives if the federal funding is withheld indefinitely.
"We're going to have to appeal to the local government to help us carry the load that was carried by the federal government," Bretania-Shafer said. "Of the utmost concern to me are the funds for students with disabilities."
She said that she plans to meet with Gov. Felix Camacho soon and inform the Legislature of the situation once GPSS has assessed its financial situation internally.
"The governor wants to get this problem solved as quickly as possible, because we will continue funding these programs with local funding," said George Bamba, Camacho's chief of staff. "But, that will have a rippling effect throughout the government and other programs will suffer. We need to have this resolved by the end of the week."
School board Chairman Joe San Agustin expressed frustration last night with what he said is a lack of formal notification.
"We're waiting for this in writing, so we can respond to it accordingly," San Agustin said.