SAN JUAN – The new public school year kicked off on Monday in Puerto Rico amid recommendations for cutbacks to deal with the island government’s lack of liquidity and after the closure of about 160 schools last year.
The economic crisis besetting the US commonwealth is the main reason for the closure of the schools, a move that has resulted in 42,000 fewer students graduating compared to the previous year, local Education Department Secretary Julia Keleher said at a press conference.
She said that, as of Saturday, a total of 314,874 students had been confirmed as enrolled at 1,130 schools on the island and that authorities were expecting about 22,000 more online requests for enrollment to be processed.
The dramatic reduction in numbers of students also has caused the island’s 27,000 teachers – 24,000 permanent and 3,108 temporary or contract instructors – who were on the payroll as of last week to have more students in their classrooms, a situation that Keleher said was exaggerated.
“At this time, the estimate is one teacher per 11 students. What could happen is that they might not be located where they should be and, at the same time, there are 273 schools with more enrollment than estimated,” Keleher said.
The education chief made her remarks at a press conference at the Julian E. Blanco school – specializing in ballet – in San Juan’s Santurce district, an event attended by Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
Rossello said that although 160 teachers remain to be placed in the 1,130 schools, “Our commitment is to act quickly. We want to ensure that those teachers are available.”
Keleher also said that the Education Department on Monday began providing security at 612 schools through Aug. 31.
In a press release, she said that the 612 schools are those at which the government made improvements and that 565 of them would receive security services from the firm Genesis, while 47 would receive such services from their respective municipalities.
Because of the island’s economic crisis, including a public debt of about $70 billion, the US Congress created a supervisory board to oversee Puerto Rico’s treasury and government spending, and that board has presented assorted recommendations for reducing public expenditures, including cutting the pay of public officials and dissolving the teacher pension system.