Controversy erupts over DOE travel to Samoa
Director of Education Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau vehemently denies that three staff members from the DOE main office were issued Travel Authorization (TA) Forms signed by her, as 'gifts' for being "Employee of the Month."
While she confirms she did in fact sign the TAs and authorized travel to Samoa for three of her employees, she said allegations the TAs were gifts for winning "Employee of the Month" and rumors that the trip was for an office retreat are absolutely "not true”.
Samoa News has confirmed the three that did go were Employees of the Month and have their photos displayed on the wall at the entrance to the DOE main office — acknowledging their awards. There are four employees on the wall — for February, March, April and May. Three of them travelled to Samoa "to set up registration of Samoa teachers for the 2013-2014 school year," according to the TAs viewed by Samoa News.
Samoa News obtained copies of the TAs, which were issued to Fo'imai To (Personnel Officer), Marie Tyrell (Personnel Officer), and Liupapa P. Laumoli (Senior Administrative Assistant). The TAs were signed by Vaitinasa, as well as officials from the Budget Office and Treasury Department.
The TAs were for $865 each, to include $150 for airfare, $615 for "Total Per Diem Advance" (which is $205 for lodging multiplied by three nights) and an additional $100 for "L.T." which is commonly known as land transportation. The "total authorized" was initially $765 but the amount was crossed out and changed to $865 — after adding in the $100 for L.T.—which was handwritten and initialed by an unidentified person.
The travel itinerary reveals the group was to depart for Samoa on July 3 and return to Tutuila on July 6.
According to the TAs, the purpose of travel was "to set up registration of Samoa teachers for the 2013-2014 school year."
The Samoa News source who provided copies of the TAs said, "What a slap on the face to other people who work at DOE and to the people of American Samoa. The Director charged the local account for this travel and yet there is supposed to be no money in the local budget. This is abuse of money and a 'no care' attitude about doing favors for others."
Samoa News spoke to several local school teachers who expressed their outrage about the trip and wanted to know the justification behind having administrative personnel travel off island to recruit teachers, and why there is a need to recruit teachers from Samoa when there are a number of local graduates who hold college degrees but have a hard time trying to find employment.
In response to Samoa News questions, Vaitinasa explained that she and her Deputy Director, along with the three DOE staff members travelled to Samoa to test the waters as far as getting an overall feel of how many educators in neighboring Samoa would be interested in teaching here.
Based on her statements to Samoa News, the reason behind the trip is very simple: there is a shortage of teachers and it is cheaper to recruit from Samoa.
Vaitinasa said they spent three days in Samoa, during which time they met with officials from the Ministry of Education to discuss the possibility of recruiting teachers with the proper credentials, three of more years of experience, and knowledge in certain content areas, including math, English and science, to teach in American Samoa.
When asked if degrees from Samoa — which are under a British education system—would be recognized locally by the Department of Human Resources, the DOE director said there are a number of teachers currently working for DOE who are degree holders from other countries such as India — and Samoa. She said these foreign teachers have proven to be great educators with excellent work ethics, who are dedicated to teaching local students.
She said the choice to recruit teachers from neighboring Samoa is due to the fact that there is a shortage of local qualified educators, and since Samoa is close in proximity, it is a cheaper alternative than recruiting from the US mainland.
Vaitinasa referred to the five-year Strategic Plan and said that come 2016, DOE teachers will be required to hold a bachelor's degree or higher. "That's why we need to find people who are experienced in content area to teach in the classrooms. Yes, a person may hold a degree, but we need those who are knowledgeable in content area," she said.
Regarding the Samoa trip, Vaitinasa said the people there "were very receptive." She said another reason why they are looking to recruit teachers from the independent state, is because these are "our Samoan brothers and sisters who understand our culture, understand the way our children are raised, and know how to incorporate that into classroom teaching."
She said she approved the TAs for the three staff members so they can help "set up the registration process" and assist in the recruitment efforts.
Just last week, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga ordered that no travel per diem would be issued to a traveler unless the TA gets his approval and is fully executed, and failure to follow the policies will result in the director, or the person who authorized the travel, having to pay for the unapproved travel.
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