Teachers Assn: Public schools have a long way to go to welcome students
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
A day before the start of the new school year, hundreds of public schools around Puerto Rico aren’t expected to receive their students due to infrastructure problems, a lack of teachers and poor government management, officials from the island’s main teachers’ organization insisted on Monday.
The Public Buildings Authority (AEP by its Spanish initials) is the agency that bears the brunt of keeping schools functional, but that hasn’t happened in years, according to the Puerto Rico Teachers’ Association (AMPR by its Spanish initials)
AMPR President Víctor Bonilla Sánchez charged that “40 percent of the schools have the same infrastructural problems: lack of vegetation management, paint chipping off the walls, leaks … and it’s even more outrageous given the amount of federal funds the government has gotten.”
“After receiving so many millions of dollars, we have to say that, unfortunately, the schools continue to suffer the same infrastructure problems as in previous years,” Bonilla Sánchez said. “One of our priorities is the schools in the south of the island affected by earthquakes two years ago. … I want to inform you that most schools in the south will remain under a hybrid education system [some days on campus, and the rest remotely].”
For an example, Bonilla Sánchez said, take the Vocational School in Yauco, whose structure is in shambles.
“Their students will have to get their education in 46 AEP [mobile units] that are going to be placed in the side yard of the main building in October,” he said. “Regrettably, our people from the south are still as they were two years ago after the earthquakes and after [Hurricane] María [in 2017], and there is money disbursed to have those schools up to date.”
The same is also the case in the center and eastern part of Puerto Rico, the AMPR president added.
Bonilla Sánchez pointed out that U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is not pleased with the usage of federal funds that have been disbursed so far.
“That is why the AMPR has formed a team of one teacher from each region to monitor the use of those federal funds and what project is taking place,” he said.
The public schools’ poor maintenance has hastened some unforeseen changes, Bonilla Sánchez added.
“At the moment, 1,975 teachers have retired,” he said. “We don’t know if all of them did it because they couldn’t stand the economic and emotional situation anymore, but we’ve seen in the past two weeks that the schools have been the same for five, 10 years. Only last week, the [Education] secretary signed a collaborative agreement with AEP to allocate the funds to attend to the matter. Now it’s time to see if they’re going to get serious.”