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Senate again rejects Jacinta Galeai to head DOE

The Senate has again rejected Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s nomination of Dr. Jacinta S. Galeai as director of the Department of Education, as the nominee failed to muster enough “yes” votes to be confirmed yesterday. The vote was 8 in support of Galeai, while 6 senators voted “no”. She needed at least 10 “yes” votes.

Galeai was first rejected by the Senate when her nomination was presented last year. The House has twice endorsed Galeai for the post. The governor at this point will have to appoint a new director for the department, which is currently overseen by Lt. Gov. Faoa A. Sunia, in his capacity as DOE Acting Director.

The Senate vote followed a Senate Education Committee confirmation hearing earlier in the day which lasted for about an hour with several questions asked of the nominee, who has been serving as DOE “director-designee” after she was first rejected by the Senate.

Sen. Fuata Dr. T. Iatala informed the nominee that additional classrooms are needed for the A.P. Lutali Elementary School on Aunu’u island because the enrollment is currently around 110, with 15 teachers, but there is only one school building with five classrooms.

Fuata said the school had to use the gym due to the lack of classrooms and the DOE also needs to look at providing housing for teachers, who live on Tutuila but must commute to Aunu’u every day. He said there are times when the weather is not good, preventing teachers from sailing to Aunu’u or returning to Tutuila.

Sen. Velega Savali Jr. had several questions, and the first dealt with DOE funding status, to which Galeai replied that funding is doing well. She explained that the biggest issue in the past dealt with submitting in a timely manner the Consolidated Block Grant with the U.S. Department of Education, and that has been corrected and resolved. She said Consolidated Grant provides the bulk of DOE annual funding.

As to Velega’s questions on DOE plans for Manu’a, the nominee said that she recently conducted a site visit of schools in the island group and found a lot more needs to be done in the area of repairs, but the setback is lack of sufficient funding, which she hopes to address in the new fiscal year when additional funding will be requested.

She also said that DOE will need to review the status of living quarters for teachers who are from Tutuila to ensure “stability” for Manu’a education programs.

Asked by Sen. Paogofie Fiaigoa regarding the “high risk” status for DOE, Galeai said that the major issue is payroll, which has been addressed thru the “Corrective Action Plan” that was approved by the federal grantor and is being followed by DOE. She said the rest of the other issues pertaining to “high risk” are under the purview of the Treasury Department.

Sen. Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, the committee chairman, noted that there have been reports about bullying in schools. He said this has to be addressed by DOE through the proper policies to protect students from being bullied or assaulted.

He also said that the government is spending a lot of money on the scholarship program, but no assessment has been carried out on the failure rate of students receiving these scholarship or the status of graduates. He said a full assessment should be conducted by DOE and the results should be released.

According to the Ituau senator, there are still students at schools affected by the 2009 tsunami in classroom tents. Galeai replied that DOE does plan to build new school buildings for the affected schools such as those in Fagasa, Tula, and Masefau, along with Taputapu, whose school was completed destroyed by the tsunami.

Confirmation votes are done by secret ballot, so it is unknown who rejected Galeai or why.