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Feds okay use of COVID ESF II grant funds for teacher pay raises

Education director Talauega Dr. Samasoni Asaeli
ASDOE has a plan to cover expense when grant money expires

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The US Department of Education (USDOE) has given approval for use of the COVID-19 Education Stabilization Fund (ESF II) to pay for salary adjustments for public school educators, while the local Education Department (ASDOE) already has a plan to cover the adjusted salaries when the grant money expires in about 3-years.

This is according to a statement from the Governor’s Office, on Monday this week, in response to media inquiries regarding the funding source for salary adjustments for educators, as there are concerns, among ASDOE teachers as well as some lawmakers on whether ESF money is allowed to cover salaries.

According to the statement, salary adjustments for all educators are allowable under the ESFII-SEA. That is the percentage of the ESF II funding given to the SEA (State Education Agency) — ASDOE.

Education director Talauega Dr. Samasoni Asaeli is quoted in the statement saying that ASDOE had already asked the grantor about the salary adjustments “and they gave the approval as we are in unprecedented times with the impact of the pandemic.”

He explained that educators have been asked to performance extra responsibilities, such as virtual/hybrid learning whereby teachers are required to learn new computer skills across various platforms such as Google classroom and Zoom, to name a few.

“Having to learn these new skillsets has taken a toll on teachers physically and mentally, hence resulting in some leaving the profession and others deciding not to join,” Talauega said.

“Salary adjustment is just one of the main incentives to retain our teachers and hopefully attract more teachers to address the teacher shortage we continue to experience every year,” he pointed out.

According to the Governor’s Office, ASDOE “has a plan already in place to ensure we are able to continue with the newly adjusted salaries once the COVID-19 ESF II is up in about 3 years.”

Gov. Lemanu Peleti Palepoi Sialega Mauga is confident that ASDOE’s plan has been reviewed by the ASG Compliance Review Committee and all necessary recommendations have been discussed and considered.

The governor commended the Education director and his staff for developing a strategy to support the long over due adjustments much needed for educators.  “This type of development takes considerable planning and wherewithal to carry out,” he said.

According to USDOE data, American Samoa was awarded $102.04 million under the ESF II-SEA grant and $264.82 million under the American Rescue Plan grant for Outlying Areas — the US territories.

Funding for salary adjustments for teachers is among the many issues about which lawmakers plan to seek more information from the Administration in coming days, before hearings are set to review the fiscal year 2022 budget.