Puerto Rico mayors take stand against school closures
SAN JUAN — After Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher announced Thursday that 283 more public schools will be closed, several mayors expressed concern with the decision, despite having been recently convened by the department official to discuss the matter.
Many mayors did not show up, such as Caguas Mayor William Miranda, who said he was concerned over the closure of 10 schools in his municipality.
“As mayor, I’m very aware of the fiscal scenario the country is going through, but balancing public finances should not be done at the expense of the education of our new generations. Direct dialogue and citizen participation in this process are crucial for a balance in decision-making and the benefit of students and the school community in general,” Miranda said.
Dorado Mayor Carlos López said the that with the school closures “the future of children is being closed” as well and claimed that the municipalities are not part of the process.
“In Dorado’s case, it is completely illogical to close five schools in our jurisdiction, including in the urban area. Municipalities were not aware of the decisions made and we have not been told whether alternatives for how to keep these schools open exist,” López said in a statement.
“The Education secretary made us invest in the reconstruction of the Teresa Préstamo School, giving us the right to adopt it and we achieved surpassing the expectation for enrollment, and now, for no reason, fails to fulfill her commitment and keep her word, closing [the school] to the Espinosa community, thus we request respect for students, parents and teachers. In addition, we demand that the Education Department make available the mechanisms so that towns can take over the schools and avoid closing them,” he added.
Amid criticism by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) minority mayors, Public Affairs & Public Policy Secretary Ramón Rosario denounced that most were absent from the meeting organized by Keleher.
In a statement Friday, Rosario said only three of the 45 PDP mayors attended the meeting, where municipal executives could have made their case.
“When they had the opportunity to contribute, they declined. In fact, the president of the Mayors Association himself, Rolando Ortiz, was absent.” The association is composed of PDP mayors.
The Public Affairs secretary denied any political bias in the decision-making process, arguing that five of the 10 most affected municipalities have New Progressive Party (NPP) majority mayors.
Another municipal official that reacted was Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado, who posted on her Twitter account that “[Gov. Ricardo] Rosselló has declared war on the children of Morovis when announcing the closure of the Carlos Alverio, Manuel A. Díaz and SU David Colón Vega schools. This mayor will defend these schools together with the communities.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz warned that she would also fight against the closures.
“To close schools is to break apart a community; it’s to tell the school community that they don’t count. In San Juan, we will fight the closures,” Cruz tweeted, and that “there are schools in the San Juan closure list where the municipality invested thousands of dollars to put them in[working] condition and now [serve as] example.”
The public affairs secretary further said it was “unfortunate that some mayors from the Mayors Association once again use an issue as important as school closures to misinform,” and that Lajas Mayor Marcos Irizarry could “attest that we listen to reasonable approaches without looking at [party] colors. The Ramón Olivares de Lajas School was left open due to the mayor’s reasonable approach.”
Rosario explained that during the school selection process “only the well-being of students was analyzed, with input from the community and from the mayors who contributed.”
Meanwhile, Vega Alta Mayor Oscar Santiago announced he will fight alongside the communities to keep the schools open.
“We will defend the permanence of the Antonio Paoli School, located in Urb. Santa Rita de Vega Alta because this school is a model in the educational region. It is based on the Montessori Method and it is excellent. They’ve already closed a school in the Maricao neighborhood. One can understand the Education Department’s fiscal reasons, but the Antonio Paoli School is an example of what we can achieve as a country if we invest in the education of our children,” Santiago wrote.
The mayor also said he will also defend the Barrio Bajuras school, a community removed from Vega Alta’s urban center and also separated by the Cibuco River, which overflows under heavy rains.
Former NPP Rep. María Vega said the list of schools to be closed includes one that was renovated under the Plan for 21st Century Schools via a legislative allocation she procured while representing District 11 of the towns of Vega Alta, Dorado and Vega Baja.
“I think the Education secretary should take a little walk around these schools and reconsider a decision that represents greater setbacks than advantages for the educational system,” she said, referring to the José D. Rosado school in Barrio Bajura Almirante and the Antonio Paoli school in the Santa Rita urbanization.
–CyberNews contributed to this report.