GDOE chief walks back selection of Fernandez

Kenneth Swanson

Kenneth Swanson this past weekend said he has not yet selected Carmen Fernandez or anyone else for any of the four deputy superintendents of education Guam law allows him to hire. But, sources who were in a secret meeting of the Guam Education Board last week Tuesday said Mr. Swanson is not being honest.

“I cannot discuss the deliberations of the Board in Executive Session beyond a general statement that last Tuesday’s executive session included  personnel matters that included possible candidates for all of the Deputy Superintendent (4) positions on my staff,” Mr. Swanson wrote to Kandit after we broke the news of his announcement to board members he had selected Carmen Fernandez to be in charge of the agency’s finances. “No appointment has been made to any of the positions.”

“He told the board he selected Carmen Fernandez,” one of the sources in the room said. “That’s when the chairwoman asked him twice if he had conducted a background check prior to his selection. There should be a transcript or recording of the proceedings publicly available 90 days after the executive session.”

Mr. Swanson said appointments to the four slots are pending background checks and “are still in process as are verification of credentials.” He also confirmed Ms. Fernandez was an applicant and expressed disdain that contents of the secret proceedings were leaked to the media.

The Guam Department of Education is a public agency that receives the plurality of the General Fund budget funded by taxpayers.

Mr. Swanson’s statement that the appointments have yet to be made pending background checks conflicts with his reported declaration to the board that he had selected Ms. Fernandez to be deputy superintendent of finance and Ken Perez to replace Erika Cruz as the top deputy at GDOE. Joseph Sanchez, the deputy for curriculum and instruction, reportedly will be keeping his job.

As reported by sources, following his announcement of his selections at the secret meeting, board chairwoman Mary Okada asked him, regarding Ms. Fernandez, “Did you run a background check?”

“I’m going to drug test her,” he replied to her.

“But did you run a background check,” Ms. Okada pushed back. Ms. Fernandez, as reported by Kandit, has a very public employment record in both Guam and the CNMI that have included major allegations of impropriety.

The superintendent, who recently started his job, also said his selections of the four deputy superintendents must be approved by a majority of the members of the board at a public meeting.

Guam law – §3125 of Title 17 Guam Code Annotated – however, states otherwise.

“Sole authority for selection and termination of management team personnel rests with the Superintendent of Education,” subsection 4 of the law that created the four deputy superintendents as the superintendent’s management team states.

Mr. Swanson did not reply to Kandit’s questions to him about his statement’s inconsistency with the law.

“The hiring in question was not a position the board is involved in,” board member Ron McNinch wrote to Kandit. “It was simply the superintendent putting together his unclassified management team. I believe the superintendent was sharing the information with us as a matter of courtesy and he was not asking for our approval or permission.”

“There is no action taken by the board at this time regarding any appointments,” Ms. Okada said.

“We strive very hard on the board to follow all federal and Guam laws,” Mr. McNinch said.

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