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House unanimously endorses Jacinta Galea’i as DOE director

The House yesterday endorsed Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s nomination of Dr. Jacinta S. Galeai as director of the Department of Education. The House last year also approved her nomination, but she was rejected by the Senate resulting in this second appointment to the post.

Prior to yesterday’s unanimous vote of 16-0, the House Education and Financial Aid Committee, chaired by Rep. Lemapu Suiaunoa Talo, held a hearing earlier in the day, which lasted for about 45 minutes.

The first to question the nominee was Rep. Faimealelei A. Allen, who stated that he didn’t have any questions at last year’s confirmation hearing because of his confidence in Galeai, but since then, some issues have come up.

He said he tried to get answers about those issues, but it appears that he was given the run-around by DOE. He felt this was not good, since he was trying to obtain necessary information to address concerns raised by his constituents.

Faimealelei said there was no question about the nominee’s qualifications, but he wanted to get an explanation on pending DOE projects, which was information that he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain.

Lemapu interjected, saying that this was a confirmation hearing, and any other questions dealing specifically with DOE can be raised at another time.

Faimealelei reiterated that there are several issues that deserve an explanation from Galeai, but he will abide with the chairman’s statement. Faimealelei then requested a list of all pending DOE projects.

He also said that there are a lot of newly completed public school buildings, but there is no specific maintenance program for the upkeep of these facilities. He suggested that any contract for new school buildings should have a clause in the paperwork dealing with maintenance.

Faimealelei also asked Galeai to look into the teacher reclassification issue to ensure that all those who qualify will receive their pay, in accordance with regulations.

Galeai apologized to the lawmaker if DOE staff didn’t provide sufficient information for his request, and said she would look into this matter. She also promised to provide a list of pending DOE projects.

Rep. Maneafaiga Faoa informed Galeai that DOE didn’t provide its 4th quarter performance report for fiscal year 2011, which is a requirement under local law, to which the director-nominee said she can provide this report later.

Rep. Tu’umolimoli Moliga called on Galeai to review the issue dealing with classroom teachers, saying that DOE needs to add more teachers. He then requested DOE to provide its organizational chart and a DOE five-year plan so that lawmakers will have a better idea on the future of the territory’s public education system.

Rep. Taotasi A. Soliai moved to dismiss the director-nominee in order for the committee to make its recommendation to the House floor for a final vote. Taotasi reminded his colleagues that the same committee conducted a thorough review and hearing of the nominee during last year’s confirmation hearing.

It was clear from that hearing as well as paperwork provided to the Fono that Galeai has the qualifications as well as the experience to head this department, said Taotasi, who was supported by other lawmakers.

Galeai is scheduled to appear next Tuesday morning before the Senate Education Committee for her confirmation hearing. She failed to garner a majority vote in the Senate last year, resulting in her nomination being rejected.

Last Friday, voices were raised during the Senate session after the governor’s nominations for two cabinet members — of which Galeai was one — were introduced and assigned to the appropriate committees for confirmation hearings.

At that time, Sen. Tulifua Tini Lam Yuen, who is also chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, asked to have their names submitted to the full membership for a final vote, because the Senate had already heard testimonies from the two nominees, who were rejected by the Senate in the last session.

He said he believes that a person should not be punished for other people’s decisions, adding that the two nominees are well qualified to serve in their appointed posts.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie interjected saying the Senate decision was not based on recommendations from outsiders or another person, but was based solely on the final decision made by each senator.

In the end, it was decided that the two nominees would return for their Senate confirmation hearings.

Galeai holds doctoral, masters and baccalaureate degrees in English. Prior to being appointed to the DOE post last June, she served as director of Communication at the Governor’s Office for four years.