By Lee Webber
If you take the time to ask almost any politician on Guam (or anywhere for that matter), they will tell you that public education is an extremely important issue for them and their campaigns.
That is especially true here on Guam.
In fact, it has been noted in my writings for many years now that education, public health and public safety are the primary political issues that those seeking election tout as their primary respective goals once in office.
That makes sense since we are talking about the care, education and well-being of our children. What could carry more importance in our lives than the health, welfare and education of the communities’ future leadership?
Well, given the recent Rotary Club of Guam presentation by the acting superintendent of the Department of Education, Francis Santos, you would never have guessed that to be true.
It all begs the question, who’s been watching over this sector of the government? Who’s in charge?
What do these watchdogs do during the summers when schools are closed and could be centers for repair and recovery?
Who’s in charge and ultimately responsible for ensuring repairs are completed?
How many times has the current governor made personal trips to individual schools to review the progress of any maintenance on the buildings to ensure the health and safety of our island children?
What about the legislature’s current members (as well as others) from the committee that oversees education and the health and safety of our children? How many times have those senators made school visits and then followed up on what needed to be repaired or replaced?
If actions speak louder than words, and they do, what has taken place in the hearts and minds of current senators, governor, lieutenant governor and Guam public school administrators?
What about actual school administrators and teachers who have been working in those buildings?
Why have we not heard strong, loud and persistent cries from them about safety issues? Do they fear for their jobs more than they care for our children?
Why haven’t island news organizations, the supposed watchdogs on government, been pounding on government officials to fix these extremely long term issues?
Or what about the teacher’s union? Where have they been in this structural safety fiasco? Why have they not raised holy hell and spoken out on behalf of the members and students they claim to care so deeply for?
The political claims of education and safety being one of their most important goals may well have been an outright lie on the part of so many of those involved in the safety and education of our communities’ children.
In fact, given the current state of our public-school buildings you can take that last paragraph to the bank!
During his Rotary presentation acting superintendent Santos mentioned that his department may be looking at shutting down certain public schools and shifting students around due to structural and safety issues at public schools.
According to Santos there are roofing issues in every school in the system.
Santos hit on a fact mentioned in an earlier column that I had written about the need to close the George Washington High School gym due to structural problems.
During the meeting Santos didn’t want to discuss particular issues concerning particular schools but did say there was very likely going to be a real need to close schools and shift children between other schools.
That will very likely lead to changes in school hours and numerous bussing issues as well.
Take for example the Simon Sanchez High School project. That school had growing problems back in the 1980s when my wife taught there and on through the 90s when my son attended high school there.
Those problems have only continued to worsen as time marched on and politicians continued to sell their empty promises to Guam’s voters.
Questions that really need asking is why have these perennial problems been allowed to continue year-after-year without any real resolution?
Who is taking responsibility for this shameful behavior on the part of people calling themselves leaders?
These elected people need to be held responsible to solve these problems and then ensure they do not return.
There have been capital improvement monies put aside for such work at various schools for years. But somehow it manages to evaporate from between the very fingers of the people who are responsible for ensuring the repairs. Or, gets magically re-appropriated for some more important project at its original or some other location.
So much for four years of success and accomplishment. But then maybe children and education aren’t counted into that equation? Just maybe, kids and schools don’t really count as much as the money and power connected to the positions.
Gosh all that money – someone has to decide where and how to spend or deposit it. And, we’re headed into our first year of a $1 billion GovGuam budget.
It is high time the voters of Guam start to hold these elected officials’ feet to the fire to ensure the changes that must be made. Let’s make sure they follow through and then follow-up.
Maybe get those words tattooed on the inside of their eye-lids so they look at them every day!
Remember these things and what the current people in positions of elected authority have done, or not done, as you go to the polls in November.
Lee P. Webber is a businessman and civic advocate, the former publisher of the Pacific Daily News, a former president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, and a former director of operations for USA Today International/Asia