Puerto Rico Education chief: Budget cuts won’t have major impact on classroom
SAN JUAN – Education Secretary Julia Keleher doesn’t believe the much-expected budget cuts will have a significant impact at the classroom level because most of the cuts resulting from the newly presented budget were expected for the administrative area. Although the secretary anticipated a $160 million cut from the department’s current budget of $2.6 billion, the executive branch’s proposed cut came out to $43.7 million.
“Where are we making cuts? In transportation, for example. We’ve done that by optimizing the routes that the buses will run, so the idea is to have all the geocodes for the students–where are they getting picked up and where they need to go–and we make sure that the buses go along that route… So, you realize that with a 10% reduction in transportation costs you are not going to see any changes in the quality of the instruction in the classroom,” Keleher said before the government administration’s 2018 budget was made public.
Other areas where she anticipated cutbacks were in administrative contracts, regional and district administrative structures, and mailing costs, among other line items in the budget.
“If you cut a little bit of those kinds of things and you try to operate more efficiently, you’ll be able to generate the savings that we need,” Keleher argued.
But, despite the budget cut and the savings the secretary is estimating can be made by reducing administrative costs, the department is getting ready to close more than 150 schools throughout the island, after concluding that enrollment is not high enough to justify keeping them open.
Saved by lack of funds?
Originally, the department intended to close 179 schools that were identified after a “rigorous, long three-and-a-half-month process,” but Keleher admitted that, after allowing the communities to be affected by the closing of the schools to react to the decision, some proposals came up that warranted “a second look.” About a dozen of those schools are getting a one-year reprieve.
One such proposal was a signed agreement from community sponsors willing to provide maintenance to the school. There is also a letter of intent for a “potential PPA [Public-Private-Partnership],” where an investor wants to help build a school in a rural area, Keleher said.