Buenas, Mr. Speaker. I rise in support of the override on Bill 58-34 (COR).
I have been a senator for exactly 5 months today. In these 5 months, the news regarding the procurement protests on the procurement process for Simon Sanchez has appeared in the PDN approximately 10 times. We have had hearings on several new ideas to redo the Simon Sanchez procurement that according to the bills, will save money and save time. The following facts should be highlighted today:
Simon Sanchez has been in the news for unsafe conditions since 2010 – I commend the courageous advocacy of teachers, principals, students and parents for bringing this to public attention. The law authorizing the rebuilding of Simon Sanchez was passed in 2013 authorizing up to $101M for Simon Sanchez and the repair of other schools. This law delegated the Superintendent of DOE, the DPW Director, DLM, GEPA, and GEDA to be the decision making authority as to how the contractor would be selected, the time period that would be demanded of the contractor, the specifications that the new school would contain, and the cost of the new school.
In 2013, the Governor authorized new offices be built for DOE at the cost of $126.3M. $126.3M is more than the $101M reserved for rebuilding Simon Sanchez, planning, repairs and completion to all the schools combined. That office building is completed and is beautiful. I invite all public school teachers to drive past that building, and then to drive further and see Tiyan High School down the street. And then to look at your own schools, be it Southern High, Simon Sanchez, GW, or Tiyan or any of the numerous middle schools that were built in the 70s or 80s or even the 90s. I am a parent, and that simple visual and the millions of dollars involved makes me furious. Yesterday a teacher from Simon Sanchez testified that she had not had textbooks for 14 years. That her classroom size exceeded the authorized limits.
Well, I would like to send a message to every teacher in the public schools on Guam: the current system of waiting, of playing along, of believing that it cannot get better or that it is not up to you, must stop. It IS up to you. The system of leaving decisions that are affecting your classrooms and your students to the administration at GDOE must end. The government has not been able to alter that political balance between the needs of teachers and politics of administration despite years of revolving superintendents, law after law changing the composition of the boards or modifying the authority of the governor over education. Do not any longer be distracted or lulled into abdicating the power you as parents and principals and teachers wield.
In the case of the rebuilding of Simon Sanchez, I have implored the GDOE management to take a stand on the rebuilding of Simon Sanchez by a faster and more cost effective means, but have been told they will not look or comment on any other proposal. They will not take ownership of the current method either, have not yet given full input as to how the new school should function, claiming they do not have sole authority over the matter or the time is not right. This is exactly the response the community received when the million dollars for Tiyan DOE offices were agreed to. No one representing you at GDOE argued that the money should go instead to remedy your classroom safety issues, or go toward books, or go toward teacher salaries. You teachers and principals must insist that you represent yourselves and insist that your input is heard by your own management team.
And I say to you parents that if the teachers are too overwhelmed to do this for you, then please do it for your children. Tell DOE enough is enough. We are having a budget hearing on GDOE on Friday, at 10 am. Everyone is welcome. I particularly invite all the principals and parents to get copies of the GDOE budgets and ask how much is going to be allocated to remedy what you have seen first hand is wrong with your child’s school. Why were the repairs to Simon Sanchez not begun yet when the citations were in the news since 2010, and the GDOE management estimates 18 more months of construction for the new school? Do not let the only voices in attendance at GDOE meetings or legislative budget hearings represent that new offices for GDOE central staff are the priority above safe schools.
You have rightfully criticized the legislature and governor for salary raises while school conditions remain unsafe. Do not accept that the government of Guam is incompetent at fixing your school or building a new school; that the DOE, DPW and other agencies learned nothing for the building of Adacao, Liguan, Okkodo, and JFK. Help us to overcome the politics involved in this multimillion dollar procurement. Together, we can speed up the completion of the new school, we can save millions and use that instead on books, the repair of other schools, bussing, or in the creation of college scholarships. We can force GDOE to focus on hard decisions and schools first. I support the solution provided in Bill 58 for the timely and cost efficient construction of Simon Sanchez, notwithstanding the governor’s veto. Thank you.