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Teacher fears PSS may ‘prematurely’ end furlough

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THE Public School System wants to end the furlough of over 700 locally funded employees so they can receive their summer pay benefit, Education Commissioner Dr. Alfred Ada said.

PSS was recently awarded $23.1 million in federal Education Stabilization Funds.

But during a recent Board of Education meeting, Marianas High School teacher Jeremy Rother said lifting the furlough will deplete PSS’ limited funding.

He said Ada’s announcement “was later retracted, but I am now very concerned about the possibility of PSS leadership…prematurely lifting the furlough in a way that needlessly depletes the limited funding that is available for education from the CARES Act and other sources.”

He said putting PSS employees back on the payroll should not be the primary reason for spending the federal funds.

He said PSS should instead use the funding for next school year’s operations by purchasing technology and other instructional resources for students, or repairing and replacing the “crumbling infrastructure” at various schools.

The “PSS leadership already made the mistake of incurring outsize payroll liabilities, which they knew they would not even be able to pay on time to locally funded employees by keeping us on administrative leave status, all the way until April 15. During this period, PSS wasted money it did not have yet by deepening its outstanding obligation to employees who were not working,” Rother said.

Most of the furloughed teachers, he added, are expecting unemployment benefits from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs.

“If PSS employees remain on furlough, most of us can expect more money for the furlough period from unemployment assistance programs, and a more financially robust PSS going into next school year. If the furlough is lifted, PSS can expect less money for that same period and more financial uncertainty for PSS employees, students, and families we serve,” Rother said.

PSS federal programs manager Tim Thornburgh told the BOE members: “My opinion is that with the JD Edwards financial management system, we really need to bring those teachers back because if they are furloughed they are not employees and we can’t make a payment.”

PSS acting finance director Kimo Rosario, for his part, said: “Summer pays are still subject to FICA. We need to put them [the teachers] in the system in order to process these payouts.”

BOE member MaryLou Ada agreed with Rother, saying that PSS should plan carefully how it spends the stabilization funds.

“All reimbursement that we are going to make defies what we are trying to stress — quality education. More funding is going towards personnel but not into the actual fiscal development for PSS.”

However, she said, PSS should pay employees what is owed to them, but she disagreed with the idea of “un-furloughing” the employees so PSS can pay them “and then putting them back on furlough so they can get unemployment benefits.”

BOE Chairwoman Janice Tenorio directed the PSS management to seek guidance and more information from the CNMI Department of Labor regarding the unemployment benefits for employees should the PSS decide to end the furlough.

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