Director of Education Dr Ruth Matagi-Tofiga was in the hot seat today when she was appeared before the joint budget hearings to testify on her department’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021.
Senator Magalei Logovii said when the Acting Chief Procurement Officer was questioned last week about the status of desks and chairs for the schools, it was explained that because the order is over $1 million it cannot be sole sourced.
Magalei told the DOE Director that she can seek a waiver for an emergency purchase based on the vendor’s past track record and ability to deliver in an expeditious manner.
Dr. Matagi-Tofiga said as of now no child is sitting on the floor, everyone has a desk and chair.
She explained that rented chairs and tables were supplied to Tafuna Elementary and Tafuna High School and as of now there is no child sitting on the floor.
But Senator Magalei said he visited Pavaiai Elementary School and he was very sad with what he found. Some students were sitting on the floor, and some at desks which were covered with material. When he asked why the desks were covered he learned that the covered parts were broken.
He asked what if the students were injured.
Magalei was emotional.
“I am very sad, these are our children. But what are we doing, what’s the cause?”
The Tuala-uta senator told the DOE director that these are the children of the territory and parents have put their trust in DOE to take care of them.
Aua Representative Faimealelei Anthony Allen said he too had visited Aua Elementary and saw first hand that the Erate which provides internet to schools was not working.
The teacher leaves the students and goes to the principal’s office to use the internet, he said.
Faimealelei pointed out that election campaigns are being allowed, church services and other gatherings have no restrictions yet classes are being staggered throughout the week.
He revealed that some of the DOE Director’s staff urged that the Fono bring the issue up because they are afraid to approach the director to say that the staggered class days are not working.
He said if Erate is not working in schools, that means students are not doing anything two days a week, that they are supposed to have virtual classes.
Another criticism by the lawmaker is that Aua Elementary with more than 400 students does not have a vice principal, a counselor and a school secretary.
According to Faimealelei some teachers have told him they want to leave DOE out of frustration.
He said some parents who work for the cannery and assigned to the same shift are not able to supervise their children on the days they are supposed to be at home and do their school work online.
He recommended to the DOE director to return to face to face classes five days a week.
His suggestion was echoed by Pago Pago faipule Vesiai Poyer Samuelu.
Senator Faamausili Mau Mau Jr said there were not enough teachers at Fagaitua .
The DOE Director said she was sad that none of the issues raised by the lawmakers had been brought up by school principals at their meetings, the latest of which was held last Friday.
Regarding the order of computers , laptops and ipads , she said that the order is worth over $3 million and Procurement has determined it should be bid out.
She said the bid should be completed by now, adding that the paperwork was initiated in June as soon as the CARES Act funding for DOE was approved.
Senator Magalei also asked about the pay for teachers for summer workshops in preparation for the new school year.
According to the DOE Director some of the checks, not all, were released last Thursday and she expected that another batch will be issued on the next payday.