Northern Marianas Trades Institute Chief Executive Officer Agnes M. McPhetres, left, speaks as incoming NMTI Board of Trustees Chairman Mario Valentino listens during a meeting with the House Committee on Education at NMITI in Lower Base on Wednesday.

Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

THE Northern Marianas Trades Institute’s 23 employees, including its instructors and chief executive officer, Agnes M. McPhetres, have learned that the end of NMTI’s transition period on Feb. 12 also meant that they are now unemployed.

Established in 2008 as a nonprofit trade school by local businessman Tony Pellegrino, NMTI became a government entity with the enactment of Public Law 20-92 in February 2019.

The law also authorizes a transition committee “to establish a transition plan, complete transfer of records, property, personnel, and funds and the operations of the [non-profit trade school] to the Northern Marianas Technical Institute.”

The transition committee was formed on Aug. 13, 2020 and had 180 days to complete its work.

According to outgoing trade school board chairman John Gonzales, they have “timely submitted” to the chairman of the incoming NMTI board of trustees chairman, Mario Valentino, “a comprehensive, validated and modified report, along with recommendations and resolutions” three days ahead of the Feb. 12, 2021 deadline.

P.L. 20-92 states that the transition committee ceases to exist upon submission of the report. “Upon termination of the Committee on Transition, the NMTI board of trustees shall have control and supervision of the Northern Marianas Technical Institute.”

McPhetres said this means that the job contracts of all employees signed by the defunct trade school board have to be also terminated.

“In short, we’re automatically out of a job,” she told House Education Committee members during a meeting at NMTI on Wednesday,

McPhetres said an educational institution cannot shut down.

“What I found during the process of transition is the lack of communication although we said we had to be transparent. Not being told what was going on, not being informed of what is going on…is a very, very frustrating experience,” she said.

McPhetres said she asked the trade school board members if they could at least draft a resolution allowing for a “smooth transition” and will not put NMTI’s employees out of job.

But she was told that the board was already defunct.

“I was asking them to see if they could honor or extend the employees’ contract especially the teachers, but I didn’t get any answer. I don’t know what to do now,” she told House members.

The chair of the House Committee on Education, Rep. Leila Staffler, said in an interview that NMTI is an autonomous agency and its board of trustees can decide on the fate of its employees.

But she also understands that the board needs a quorum to make a decision.

“As we heard today, I don’t think they have made those final decisions,” Staffler said, adding, "I will do whatever I can to support [NMTI] moving forward.”

With Staffler during the meeting at NMTI were other House Education Committee members: Reps. Edwin Propst, Donald Manglona, Sheila Babauta, Celina Babauta and Denita Yangetmai.

Also attending the meeting were some of NMTI’s instructors and the members of the new board: Catherine Attao, Richard P. Kautz Jr., and Mario Valentino.

A bachelor of arts in journalism graduate, he started his career as a police beat reporter. Loves to cook. Eats death threats for breakfast.

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