Education to receive $1 billion, but first needs infrastructure plan for schools damaged by Maria

By The Star Staff

Education Secretary Eligio Hernández said Monday that a disbursement of more than $1 billion in federal funds will be available to the island Education Department once the infrastructure restructuring plan for schools impacted by Hurricane Maria in 2017 is presented to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

He also said the disbursement of the funds is not conditioned on the appointment of a trustee.

The plan will be submitted to FEMA within 90 days after the agency receives the letter announcing the award, Puerto Rico’s Education secretary said.

“It [the disbursement of funds] will be available once the department’s infrastructure plan is approved by FEMA. That plan is 80 percent complete,” Hernández said in a radio interview (Radio Isla 1320 AM). “We have to wait for the letter informing us of the awarding of the education funds; that should be happening this week, and from there we start counting 90 days and once approved, the work for the Puerto Rico Department of Education will begin. We are thinking that possibly the determination of the initial work should be for next year.”

Last week, government officials announced the release of $13 billion through FEMA for repairs to the island power grid and for schools. Most of the funds are going to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

Hernández also provided a response to allegations raised by Teachers Association President Elba Aponte to the effect that no funds will be disbursed to the Department of Education because of the agency’s failure to appoint a trustee.

“The allocation of FEMA funds is not conditioned to a trustee,” he said. “The only [allocations] that are attached to the [appointment of a] trustee are funds coming from the federal Department of Education. The [island] Department of Education must spend the oldest funds in order to access the newest ones.”

Hernández said the agency already is negotiating a contract to hire a trustee.

“The trustee has been selected; we are negotiating the contract,” he said. “They have a legal advisory firm here in Puerto Rico. We also have a consulting firm. Basically, everything is ready to sign the contract. However, there is a contractual controversy clause and I cannot speak about it because it is under negotiation. If we manage to save the situation of this clause, possibly we will have the contract signed this month.”

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