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Faipule: Why are teachers, students fundraising for school supplies?

Pictured are several faipule after one the House sessions earlier this week.  [photo: AF]
DOE Director denies the allegations

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Last week, Ituau faipule, Rep. Sataua Dr. Mataese Samuelu requested the chairman of the House Education Committee for a hearing with ASDOE director, Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, to discuss the issue of fundraising in some schools.

According to the faipule, teachers and students are engaged in fundraising activities to raise money to purchase school supplies for the kids.

 Sataua, an educator by profession, told lawmakers during a House session last week that he was very saddened when he heard about what's going on, and he wants to find out why these things are happening in schools when there are funds allocated to buy school supplies.

The faipule said he never thought anything like this would occur in local schools but he has received information that teachers are using a game called "Hit 3" to raise money every week to buy school supplies for the students.

“The question is, where is the budget that was passed by the Fono for DOE to buy school supplies?” Sataua asked.

(Hit 3 is a common game played every Friday in general in the territory and is based on the first three numbers — and the bonus number — of the Samoa National Lotto. Samoa News should point out that it is a game of chance, and therefore gambling — which is illegal in American Samoa.)

Sataua told lawmakers the only way to get an answer is to call a hearing with the DOE director to discuss the issue.

Several lawmakers supported Sataua’s request and asked House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale for a hearing.

Manu’a faipule, Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele echoed Sataua’s concerns, saying he too has a lot of issues that need clarification from DOE, pertaining to their services, especially the School Bus Division. Toeaina wants to know why is there a shortage of DOE school buses.

This past Monday, following a meeting with the DOE director, Chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga had answers to some of the concerns that were raised by lawmakers last week.

According to Vaetasi, the DOE director has denied allegations that teachers are engaging in fundraising activities to buy school supplies for students.

“According to the meeting with the director, DOE has enough school supplies and there are no reports from any schools regarding fundraisers to buy supplies for students. Fundraising such as selling food and other things are not allowed in schools, as the School Lunch Program is providing food for the students,” Vaetasi told lawmakers.

He added that if any faipule has questions with regards to DOE services, the director’s office is not far from where they're at — it’s only 100 feet away. They can walk to the director’s office anytime they want and she will welcome anyone who wants to speak with her about DOE-related issues.

The director’s response, voiced by Vaetasi, didn't sit well with Toeaina.

He told Vaetasi that although the director’s office is not far from them, he believes every concern must go directly to Vaetasi, as he is the Chairman of the House Education Committee, and therefore, he should communicate with the director to find answers to these questions.

On the issue of school buses, Toeaina recommends that the Fono find ways to avoid the shortage of bus service when school is in session.

He said the government must use the Capital Improvement Project (CIP) fund not only to purchase new school buses but also pay for bus maintenance.

“It’s really sad to see that ASG is using CIP money to fund many useless projects rather than using it on essential projects including the purchase of new school buses for DOE. We need to ask the DOE director if she’s planning to use some of her department's funds to buy new school buses for the students,” Toeaina continued.

“It’s sad to see students walking on the road after school in the sun because there are no school buses to transport them home. Some students catch the aiga bus to go to school at their own expense, because DOE has failed to provide transportation for them.

“These are some of the essential issues that ASG must consider as first priority, and the only way ASG will do something to avoid these problems is if the Fono pushes government leaders to work hard on these issues. I believe it's about time for the government to find a solution to the problem of not having enough school buses. In order for our children to have a good education, we have to make sure transportation is always available for them.”

The House Speaker chimed in and said the worst part of all this, is that the issue regarding teachers fundraising for school supplies was raised inside the chamber by lawmakers.

“It seems like the director's response contradicts what has been said in the chamber and I believe the only way we can find the right answer is to call a hearing and let the director testify and explain whether these allegations are true or not," Savali said.

“The law is clear, fundraising in school is prohibited and in order for us to get to the bottom of this, we must hear from the director.”

On the issue of school buses, Savali said he’s shocked to hear about the shortage of school buses, as new school buses were bought for DOE not long ago.

He said if the problem stems from the lack of funds, lawmakers should look at ways to resolve it. He suggested that lawmakers look for funding to purchase new school buses, instead of voicing the concern and not doing anything about it.

"The only way we can find a solution is to draft a money bill with a solid source of funding,” Savali said.