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House Budget Committee grills budget director over ASG pay raises

Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua (left) along with Dr. Roxanne Sua’ava Salave’a
Admin’s action is clearly a violation of the Constitution, lawmakers say

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Members of the House Budget Committee stated during a hearing on Tuesday morning that they fully support the pay raises for teachers.

However, the time and the process is not right and that is why the committee members are concerned over the action the Administration has taken when the Administration’s role is to plan while the Legislature’s role is to appropriate funding received by the American Samoa Government (ASG).

The Budget Director, Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua along with the Acting Director of the Department of Education (DOE) Dr. Roxanne Sua’ava Salave’a appeared before the committee to discuss the recent pay raise for teachers.

Committee chairman, Rep. Vailiuama Steve Leasiolagi said that with three months remaining in the current fiscal year, it behooves the House to get an understanding of all the federal grants received by the Dept of Education and how they’re being spent.

He was referring to the COVID-19 Education Stabilization Fund II from which millions of dollars have been received by DOE and been allocated to schools both public and private based on enrollment.

Vailiuama said the amount of money coming to DOE under this fund is phenomenal and it would be appropriate for the House to get a briefing on this funding to prepare for review of the new fiscal year budget.

The committee also raised concerns that personnel costs were not allowable under the Education Stabilization Fund-State Education Agency (SEA). Representatives have expressed concern about the sustainability of the salary adjustments after the federal grants run out.

According to the DOE acting director and as reported yesterday in Samoa News, ASDOE has a plan already in place to ensure that they are able to continue with the newly adjusted salaries once the COVID-19 ESF II expires in about 3 years. 

She also pointed out that salary adjustment is one of the main incentives to retain teachers and hopefully attract more teachers to address the teacher shortage American Samoa continues to experience every year.

Tualauta-uta Representative, Larry Sanitoa echoed Vailiuama’s statement, saying that the Fono is in the dark on how much money ASG is going to spend on the pay raises and wants to know the source of funding for this special purpose.

Sanitoa said the Fono is in the dark as to what this funding is all about. They were never notified about these funds and ASG never explained it to them.

“We all want the best for our people especially their salaries, however, the problem is that the Fono has no knowledge at all what this salary increase is all about,” Sanitoa said, adding that the Constitution clearly states that the Fono’s role is to appropriate funding while the Administration’s role is to plan.

Vice Speaker of the House, Fetu Fetui Jr fully supported Sanitoa’s statement. He said that leaders of the three branches of the government support the idea of salary increases for all employees, however, he disagrees with the way ASG has submitted their plan.

“Our role is clearly stated in the Constitution and the laws of this country and each branch of the government must know their role under the law,” Fetu said.

“I totally believe that the administration has violated the Constitution and the law by implementing these salary increases without informing the Fono and identifying the source of funding to cover these personnel costs.”

Rep. Vaetasi Tuumolimoli Saena Moliga did not mince words when he addressed the issue. He described the move by ASG for the salary increases as putting aside the Constitution and the law and doing whatever they wanted to do. He said the Administration has overstepped and is playing the role that belongs to the Fono. As a result, the Fono has nothing to do and that’s why people are accusing the Fono of doing nothing.

“Your role is to plan while the Fono’s obligation is to appropriate funding for certain tasks. Now, you fulfill both your obligation and ours, so, what are we going to do now?” Vaetasi asked, adding that the Administration must remember that any remaining funding must be returned to the Fono to be re-appropriated for a new task.

In response to faipule questions, Sua’ava-Salave’a told the committee that the salary adjustments for all educators are allowable under the ESFII-SEA. That is, the percentage of the ESF II (Education Stabilization Fund) funding given to the SEA (State Education Agency), ASDOE, is being used to fund the adjustments.

Sanitoa asked about the total number of teachers included in the salary increases. According to the DOE acting director, teachers eligible under the new pay scale includes 240 teachers paid under the Consolidated Grant; all teachers at Special Education; all ECE teachers paid under the ECE grants, and almost 300 teachers paid from local funds.

Rep. Andra Samoa wanted to know whether DOE discussed the issue of the salary increases for teachers with the grantor. Sua’ava-Salave’a responded yes. They had already asked the grantor about the salary adjustments and they gave the approval.

Aigamaua-Saelua was in tears by the end of the hearing in response to faipule concerns and complaints.

She apologized on behalf of the Lemanu and Talauega administration if what they did was wrong. She told the committee that the salary increase was a Lemanu idea to explore as a way for government employees to have the money they need to take care of their families. Lemanu then appointed a Compliance Review Committee to look into the idea, she said. The committee’s recommendation was to go ahead with the salary increases and start with teachers.

The budget director also stated that Gov. Lemanu and the administration had no intention of violating any laws or the Constitution of the territory. His first priority is to make sure all employees receive fair salaries in order for them to take care of their families, pay their bills and feed their children.

According to Aigamaua-Saelua, there were times she advised Lemanu regarding this issue and the truth of the matter is, there is no source of funding to support all these salary increases. Not only for teachers but for all other government employees. She admitted that she had failed to play her part as budget director by advising the Administration of the need to identify, as mandated by law, a funding source for the salary increases.

This week the administration bill to repeal the old salary scale for teachers and replace it with the one that went into effect July 1st, had its first reading in the House.

According to the bill the current pay scale for teachers is inadequate and there should be more flexibility for the executive branch and the Fono to set teacher pay rates.

The summary of the bill states that teachers will be compensated in accordance with the new pay scale adopted for career service employees. However this is not a true statement, as the teacher salary scale is higher than the general wage scale for ASG, according to the DOE director.

The new entry level salaries for teachers is based on the types of degree they hold: $20,000 for those holding an AA degree; $31,000 for those holding a BA degree; $41,000 for those holding a Masters degree and $50,000 for those holding a Ph.D. degree.

The new entry level salaries for career service employees is based on the minimum wage and white-color and blue-collar scales: $15, 080 minimum wage; $19,000 for those holding an AA degree; $28,000 for those holding a BA degree; and for a holder of a Masters Degree $35,000.

A doctorate holder salary is not listed in the memo, Adoption of New Pay Scale, that was issue by the governor, dated June 30, 2021, which listed the new entry level salaries for career service employees, effective July 1, 2021.