Lawmakers briefed on School Year readiness — teachers, buses, salaries
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — During the local Department of Education’s (ASDOE) fiscal year 2019 budget hearing last week, director. Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga, gave lawmakers updates on some of the issues which usually attract a lot of public criticism before the start of a new school year.
A shortage of teachers and lack of operational school buses always top the list of complaints from the community, including lawmakers, who in past years summoned education officials to several committee hearings to answer questions on these two issues.
With public school classes set to open Sept. 4 for the new school year 2018-2019,the Education director used the budget hearings venue to provide advance information on ASDOE preparations.
For teachers, Matagi-Tofiga reminded lawmakers of past years where classroom teachers, waited until the start of a new school, “to tender” their resignation. As a result, ASDOE continues to work towards filling these positions as soon as they become vacant.
Currently, there are vacant teaching posts and throughout the summer ASDOE carried out “recruitment” targeting American Samoa students, who graduated with Bachelors and Masters degrees or Associate of Arts degrees in education from the American Samoa Community College.
Matagi-Tofiga acknowledged the “close working relationship” between ASDOE and ASCC, saying that students graduating with an AA degree in education are given the opportunity for a classroom teaching position, and at the same time, these AA degree holders are encouraged and urged to seek a higher degree in education through the Cohort program.
Although the department has off island contract teachers, Matagi-Tofiga emphasized that ASDOE’s goal and focus is on recruiting our own sons and daughters with degrees to staff classroom teaching positions.
However, there are exceptions, in the specialized subject areas of English, Science and Mathematics where contract teachers are recruited if the department is unable to recruit a qualified American Samoan, she said, noting that volunteer teachers from the US based World Teach organization are also helping to fill teaching positions in classrooms.
Regarding concerns with teachers for Manu’a, the Education director says recruitment continues for the high school, while the recent 20 teacher-graduates with higher degrees in education under the Cohort program for Manu’a, are staffing elementary schools there.
She also responded to concerns — which surfaced two week ago — regarding school buses, telling lawmaker that currently there are sufficient operational buses in the fleet. For ECE students, she said there are specific buses for their use and specialized buses/ vans for students attending Special Education.
Matagi-Tofiga explained that each bus is assigned a specific route and the Transportation Division has a plan in place when a driver or bus for that specific route is not available. For Manu’a — all buses have been returned to Tutuila and schools there are now using vans, which makes it easier to transport students and answers the problem that at times there is a shortage of diesel fuel for the large buses.
“A mechanic will be heading to Manu’a to service and assess the vans” to see if anything else is needed before the start of the school year, she explained.
For two years, several parents have complained that buses are difficult to maneuver on the narrow and hilly roads on Ta’u island and requested the use of vans.
Responding to committee questions, the Education director explained that principals, and vice principals as well as school counselors are placed on a one-year probationary period upon hiring.
A requirement for principals and vice principals is that they hold a Master’s degree, she said and acknowledged that there are some vice principals, who have not yet achieved a Master’s degree and have been given a chance to get that degree, which also means a raise in salary.
For teachers graduating from Cohort programs, the starting salary is $23,700 for Bachelors and $27,000 for Masters degrees, she explained. (Samoa News notes that this “threshold” was set more than three ago by the Lolo Administration, and this is an increase from previous years.)
She also says that its very important for ASDOE that individuals seeking teaching jobs hold degrees in education, as there are individuals holding BAs and Masters, but not in the field of education.
Matagi-Tofiga also made it clear that all positions, including teaching, are advertised so that everybody has a chance to apply. She said ASDOE leadership screens those who apply for any position in the department.
She was responding to concerns that the department’s leadership picks and chooses who gets a job with higher pay — especially at the main office in Utulei.
“Many teachers prefer to remain in the classroom and if there’s a chance for a person to move to a higher [level] or different post, the leadership cannot stop that individual from applying for the job” if the person feels they qualify, she said, and reiterated that everyone goes through the screening process after they apply.
Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean noted a very high salary of over $92,000 in the FY 2019 budget for a JROTC Instructor, and sought additional information.
Matagi-Tofiga says this person/ salary oversees the JROTC program in the territory and the salary is split 50-50 between the feds and local revenues to fund the post.
“This has been the agreement for this position over the years,” she said, adding that is the same agreement with all JROTC instructors’ positions, who are contract employees.
Tuaolo pointed out that salaries for JROTC Instructors listed in the budget — that some of them are higher than the ASDOE director’s salary.
According to budget documents, the lowest JROTC Instructor salary is $61,472 and the highest at $92,472 while the director’s annual salary is $73,000.
Samoa News notes salaries of all directors, who are all contract employees, are set by the governor and lieutenant governor.