Thursday, September 20, 2007

What We Spend Our Money On Reveals What We Value

When I got back from college in 1997, I was astounded that Marianas High School was still the only public high school on Saipan for thousands of students. I even taught there for a while and was shocked to see as many as 40 students crammed into each windowless classroom. The simple fact, as verified by credible research, is that overcrowded schools and classrooms are difficult to manage and, therefore, difficult to teach.

What was even more shocking was that while MHS waited for a new gym—one that had been stalled for almost a decade—it took no time to erect a new court building and prison facility right next door! And while now we may have two new public high schools, it’s still a shame that we can build courtrooms and a state-of-the-art prison facility, but we can’t even fund toilet paper for MHS, let alone renovate or build new classrooms. And don’t even get me started on the challenges faced at Hopwood.

On top of that, discussion is underway to give government attorneys higher pay at the same time that PSS is facing severe budget cuts.

And from a national level, it sickens me that while thousands of billions of dollars are spent on the military, most schools have to beg and fundraise and panhandle just to buy textbooks. You have to ask, when was the last time the military had a bake sale?

I’m not saying that we don’t need the military. Nor am I trashing on our men and women in the armed forces, for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. I just think our priorities are a little warped.

After all, what are our priorities?

Why do we spend more money to build courtrooms and prisons instead of classrooms? Is it more important to put people in jail than to keep them out?

Why do we spend more money on attorneys than teachers? Is litigation more important than education?

And why do we spend more money on weapons and bombs than on schools? Is it more important to destroy than to build towards a future?

In the end, what we spend our money on says so much more about what we value than anything else. So, while the adage may be that actions speak louder than words, our spending priorities must be so loud it’s deafening. If that’s the case, have we grown deaf to the symphony of destruction blasting away? I certainly hope we haven’t.


Boni said...

Hi Galvin. I'm linking to your blog. Glad to see you sharing your thoughts with us.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Thanks for stopping by at the roundtable last night. If I don't run into you before Monday, break a leg with the Election.

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

Since some dude(ette) took the liberty of posting an anonymous response to this post ON ANOTHER BLOG, I thought I would take the liberty of posting it here, all in the interest of remaining "fair and balanced".

Feel free to comment on it. I know I will.

Anonymous [#0962] said...

Since I have Mr. G on this thread, I'd like to address your September 21st letter to the editor of the Marianas Variety mentioning government attorneys. "On top of that, discussion is underway to give government attorneys higher pay at the same time that PSS is facing severe budget cuts. . . . Why do we spend more money on attorneys than teachers? Is litigation more important than education?"

You should be aware that Public Law 15-81 simply restored lawyer salaries to their 1998 levels, after the FY 2007 budget omitted the usual language. The CNMI actually spends considerably more on the salaries of government teachers than on government attorneys, which is as it should be. (PSS administrators, AG support staff, and immigration personnel are not teachers or lawyers.) Indeed, there has been a cut in the number of OAG lawyers between December 31, 2005 and July 1, 2007 from 31 to 20. Heaven help us if we have a similar reduction in PSS teachers! So much for the supposedly inordinately severe budget cuts at PSS. Times are tough for everyone.

If you are referring to the salary of an individual attorney compared to a teacher, remember the need to repay student loans, and keep in mind that as with doctors, lawyers have options to work elsewhere -- as do teachers. Only one indigenous NMD attorney currently sees fit to work at the OAG, which says something about how “generous” the salaries for public service lawyers are here in the CNMI. Since non-NMD citizens in the CNMI are ineligible to join the 68% of Americans who own their family home, which is the greatest financial asset of most households, it is safe to say that the net worth of home-owning NMD teachers’ families is likely higher than that of most government lawyers, even considering deflated real estate values.

This brings to mind the issue of a candidate for School Board apparently seeking to promote the politics of class division and envy, rather than seeking to unify the community. No, litigation may not be “more important” than education, but if the Commonwealth cannot prevail in the avalanche of frivolous and over-pleaded lawsuits that besets the government, then there will not be any money left for education. It will all go to Plaintiffs’ lawyers and the purveyors of inflated claims. So it’s that simple, a matter of practical necessity.

Nor should we be always seeking to compare ourselves with one another, trying to measure who is “more important.” This hardly befits a candidate for public office, a position where humility should be central. As Our Lord taught at the Last Supper when He washed his disciples’ feet, the greatest of all is the servant of all.

P.S. Even if everyone on Saipan voted randomly for School Board, you’d have a 2/3 chance of winning, so I hope you’re up to the job!

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

I completely agree that humility should be central to anyone seeking public office. And I complete agree that we should be foot-washers. I do apologize if I've suggested otherwise.

But, just to clarify, I was not trying to "promote the politics of class division and envy" with my post/letter to the editor. Rather, I was questioning our priorities as a community. Sure, in terms of real dollars, our government spends more on teachers. However, when we look at how much money is spent per teacher and per student, the numbers are appalling. For example, we spend more local funds per prisoner than we do local AND federal funds per student. To be specific, according to the Department of Corrections, we spend about $28,150.00/year on each prisoner, whereas we spend only about $6,000.00/year on each student. That makes it very clear, at least to me, what our priorities are.

And I never said that we do not need attorneys. We need attorneys and the legal system to work out our differences and disagreements in a civilized manner, rather than resorting to violence.

But, when we invest more in our legal system than in our education system, something is remiss.

Lastly, I think it completely "befits a candidate for public office" to ask tough questions. As Albert Einstein once said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

Sorry about the typos above. I was writing in a fit of expository rage. My fingers couldn't keep up with my thoughts.

Peace Out. And Save Ferris.

Jeff said...

At least the blog they picked is a good one. You are now an active part of the blogosphere with your first anonymous critique.