By Lori Lyn Lirio
A SCHOOL catering to trade craft in Saipan is in danger of closing its doors to more than 500 students any time from today due to lack of funding.
The Northern Marianas Trades Institute (NMTI) may shut down its operation any time this month of June if Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres fails to grant their request for for additional fund.
NMTI Chief Executive Officer Agnes McPhetres said closing the institution will affect nearly 600 students who are attending the trade school. She noted that the NMTI gets its funding from CW funds through the administration of the CNMI Scholarship Office.
For FY 2018 budget, the governor appropriated US$1,949,700 in CW fees. The CSO administered the distribution of the same to three educational and vocational entities, namely the Northern Marianas College, NMTI and Latter Training Academy. Both NMC and NMTI shall get an initial allotment of US$547,766 while the LTA shall get US$578,680.
In a letter addressed to Torres, NMTI board chair John Gonzales pointed out how the governor could assist and help them to continue the school until the end of the school year.
“NMTI’s enrollment has quadrupled and programs expanded to accommodate the registered trainees,” he said.
He added that aside from the initial allotment, CSO Administrator Rose Pangelinan sets aside 15 percent administrative fees, amounting to US$251,132 – which he said remained available.
The NMTI asked the governor to tap the available funds to help the institution survive until the mid- August.
“We are appealing to you to facilitate the allocation of the administrative fees in the amount of US$251,132 and the remaining US$24,356 that have not been committed to NMTI,” Gonzales told the governor.
“The funding is direly needed and essential so that the current classes and training will not be cut short before the end of the current fiscal year,” he added.
“Our current funding awarded by CSO is about 50 percent. If we do not obtain this infusion of remaining available funds, we would not have the adequate funding to continue classes and operating NMTI. We would be left with no choice, but to cease operations soon,” Gonzales stated.
Last fiscal year, McPhetres said the NMTI receive US$1.1 million funds and they had over 300 students.
“This year, they give us only US$500,000 and we had almost 600 students currently enrolled,” she said.
She also said the letter was sent to the governor on May 7 and as of Wednesday, they have not receive any response from his office.
“If there was no action from the governor’s office, we will have to close by the end of May,” she said, adding they are expecting quarterly allocation of US$72,000 – from CW funds – in July.
The problem, she said, is how they could carry the NMTI from June to July.
“We will not have any money in June. The money that we have is until the end of May,” she said.
Aside from the 15 percent administrative fees from CW funds, McPhetres is counting on the House Local Bill 20-65 which appropriates US$100,000 for NMTI.
In a phone interview with Rep. Angel Demapan, the local bill was passed by the House on Friday and it is now with the governor.
If the governor signed the bill into law, McPhetres said that will cover them in June. The quarterly allotment of US$72,000 would get the NMTI through July up to mid-August.
“If the governor will act on our request and give the administrative fees, amounting to US$251,132 – that is not touched – it will take us to the end of the fiscal year,” she said.
“We will close until we have the funds which will be a disruption for the continuation for what the students are doing,” she added.
On September, over 140 students at the NMTI are slated to graduate, but McPhetres said they may not even finish the program if the NMTI failed to get additional money.
Meanwhile, McPhetres urged the lawmakers to reconsider putting the CW funding administration in a more appropriate department than the CNMI Scholarship Office.
In an interview, McPhetres accused Pangelinan of not following the law as the latter divided the CW funds to three entities – Northern Marianas College, NMTI, and the Latte Training Academy.
In her letter to House Committee Ways and Means chairman Rep. Angel, McPhetres said the manner that CSO administered and disbursed the funds for FY 2018 is not in accordance with the intent of P.L. 20-11.
In P.L. 20-11, McPhetres cited “the sum of US$1,949,700 in Commonwealth Worker Fee is to be administered by the CNMI Scholarship Office in collaboration with the educational entities such as the NMC and NMTI. The funds are restricted solely for the purpose of ongoing vocational educational curricula and program development for Commonwealth educational entities.”
The NMC, the NMTI and LTA were selected to receive CW funding in FY 2018.
In a press release issued by the CSO on January, it stated that the NMC and NMTI have been guaranteed US$547,766 each while LTA will get US$578,680. It is based on a memorandum of agreement between NMC, NMTI and the CNMI Department of Labor, the former CW funds administrator.
“The law says that each of the entity – only NMC and NMTI – but she extended it to give LTA. The law did not say to give it to other institution and to make things worse, she gives more to an institution that only provides workshops,” McPhetres said.
“The law also said that each training entity will provide plan as to how we will spend the money but she disregard everything of those and went her own way and disburse it the way she feels it that way it should be,” she added.
She claimed the CSO cut NMTI funding request by 50 percent while its enrollment and program offering quadrupled.
“Such amount could cover only full-time instructors and eliminate part-time programs. Yet the CSO allotted more funds to an entity which offers the fewest programs, with all those offered being training in ‘light trades’ programs,” she said.
Light trades, according to McPhetres, are other vocational that only needs instructor, book and a room and no hands-on.
NMTI does the heavy trades, McPhetres said.
“In heavy trades, you need instructor, book, tools, equipment, room and consumable materials that the various programs need for quality implementation.”
McPhetres also questioned the budget submission by the CSO for FY 2019. She said the administration is unilaterally changing the intent of the U.S. Congress by assigning the CW funds directly to the trainee/student.
“The USPL 110-229 states that CW permit fees shall be paid into the Treasury of the Commonwealth government for the purpose of funding ongoing vocational education, apprenticeship programs and other training programs,” she said.