Puerto Rico Education secretary on school closures: There’s no going back
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher insisted Monday that the list of 167 schools to be closed for the next school year, which begins in August, is final and therefore will not reconsider reopening any of them.
“All the decisions have been made. I am relocating [teachers]…. We are preparing ourselves for August; there’s no going back,” Keleher told Caribbean Business after her meeting with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in La Fortaleza.
Their meeting took place hours ahead of them departing for Washington, D.C., where they will meet with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Regarding the meeting with the governor, Keleher only said they discussed “all matters related to education,” as well as “strategic” matters.
As for the possibility of keeping certain schools open, since there are legislators making requests on this regard, the secretary insisted that “there hasn’t been any change” to the list of 167 schools to be closed.
Fight for Aguas Buenas schools
Among the officials who have requested that some schools be kept open are Rep. Jorge Navarro, Sen. Henry Neumann and Aguas Buenas Mayor Javier García, the three of whom achieved that the governor schedule a meeting with Keleher to discuss the possible reopening of two schools in the municipality.
The legislators committed to reallocating legislative funds to pay for utilities at Aguas Buenas’s Luis Santaella and Felipe Hernández Rivera schools. A reopening would be negotiated for the Luis Santaella school to stay open for one more year, while an agricultural program would be implemented at Felipe Hernández Rivera school with the use of federal funds, the representative explained.
“The governor gave the order [to Keleher] to meet with all of us, and the meeting will take place June 30 in the Luis Santaella school. [The Education secretary] must evaluate [the reopening] because I have an order from La Fortaleza. That was the order the governor issued,” Navarro told Caribbean Business.
The representative assured that he will be prepared to convince the Education secretary about the importance of those schools and that he is willing to use his “political muscle” to do so.
“If it has to be done with political muscle, then we will use our political muscles. [The schools that have reopened] are schools of great leaders in the government, such as the one in Fajardo, [of the representative district] of the House speaker, Carlos ‘Johnny’ Méndez. [Sen.] Carmelo Ríos had to use muscle to question and explain that there was an opportunity to expand the school [in Guaynabo, which remained open],” he said.
In the case of Guaynabo, the Alejandro Jr. Cruz remained open, while the Inés Encarnación school will remain operating in Fajardo.
Out of the 179 schools initially considered for closure, the Education Department has negotiated to keep 12 of them open. Consolidating schools is expected to achieve $7.7 million in savings for the government.