DOE maintenance and staff transferred to Public Works
In keeping with another promise made this year, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has transferred all public school maintenance functions and staff to the Department of Public Works, where maintenance duties are divided into six districts, to ensure expedited responses when requests are received.
The transfer to DPW also includes DOE funds earmarked for maintenance. It is not known at this time if additional maintenance funds will be appropriated.
Lolo’s move to transfer school maintenance to DPW was first revealed earlier this year but was expedited during the summer when the Department of Health found several school facilities in deplorable conditions, which resulted in a two-week delay in the start of the new school year for schools on Tutuila.
Then in a Sept. 30th letter to the Interior Department outlining several issues faced with the territory, the governor revealed he has created within DPW a new Division of School Maintenance charged with the responsibility of maintaining all the public school facilities to free DOE “to strictly focus its total attention on the business of educating the children of American Samoa.”
Responding to Samoa News questions, the governor’s executive assistant Iulogologo Joseph Pereira said it’s Lolo’s wish that DOE concentrate solely on educating students with “teachers focusing on classroom teaching” instead of having to worry about the conditions of public school facilities.
Iulogologo said school maintenance is divided in about six ‘districts’ with a supervisor, who is responsible along with the district team to “response expeditiously” to any calls from public schools throughout the territory.
“The idea is to have a technical team of certified plumbers, electricians and other personnel available to be dispatched immediately to any request from each district,” he said over a telephone interview last Friday. He said that under the setup of this network with DPW, the maintenance crew will also continue to visit school campuses every day to ensure there are no other problems, which will be later identified as worst.
“Preventive measures is the idea, to make sure a small problem does not get worse, or any issue does not become a problem later,” he said, adding that DPW has set out specific work duties and responsibilities for the maintenance crew.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ‘Inventory and Condition Assessment — Phase II Report’, on the conditions of public schools in U.S. insular areas found that of the more than $100 million of “deferred maintenance” for all public schools for insular areas, American Samoa’s estimated deferred maintenance is about $10 million, with the highest deferred maintenance in the electrical system.
Deferred maintenance, according to the September 2013 report, is maintenance that should have been performed but was delayed for a future period.
Among the recommendations in the report is for DOI and the Insular Areas to come up with an implementation plan to improve the physical conditions of Insular Area schools and transition the school to sound, adequately-funded preventative school maintenance programs. (See Oct. 18 edition of the Samoa News for story on Army Corps report)
Iulogologo said that by moving forward with creating a new school maintenance division in DPW, the governor wants to “demonstrate to the Interior Department that we can do it and that we have moved ahead to address problems with our public school facilities.”
Samoa News notes there is no available information about funding particulars for school maintenance through the DPW — other than the DOE funds earmarked for maintenance for FY 2014 are being transferred.
Currently, the local DOE FY 2014 budget for school maintenance is $1.4 million. It is allocated for the DOE school maintenance fund with $700,000 for maintenance materials and $700,000 under the ‘contractual service’ budget category for "school construction and renovation."
It should also be noted several senators, during and after a Senate Education Committee hearing where DOE director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau testified on the status of public schools, in August of this year, offered suggestions to improve the DOE maintenance division.
During the hearing, Sen. Mauga T. Asuega — suggested the director look at having this work — such as fixing bathrooms and major renovations — done by the private sector and overseen by a task force, who would report to the DOE director. Senators Avegalio Aigamaua and Laolagi F.S. Vaeao also noted that private sector contractor(s) could handle all the major repair work during summer break for public schools, supported this suggestion.
"It’s a lot of work to be done and DOE needs help," said Laolagi, who told Vaitinasa to revisit the fuel tax from which a portion goes to DOE facility maintenance, and ensure the entire fund is available to DOE for maintenance purposes.
After the hearing, Sen. Galeai Tu’ufuli later told Samoa News his suggested "solution" is to divide the territory into three to four zones, and from there put out bids to the private sector to handle annual repairs of all public schools… And if additional funds are needed, DOE — through the Governor’s Office — can submit a request to the Fono for approval.