September 06, 2010

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM-When the implementation of a salary reclassification plan for Chuuk State teachers was called into question, the Office of the National Public Auditor (OPA) was asked to conduct an audit. The audit, released in late August, concluded that though there were some problems with the reclassification process the Chuuk Teacher Reclassification Policy had accomplished its goals and had not violated "any rules, regulations, and (or) funding agreements."

315 Chuuk teachers applied for salary reclassification in 2009 after the Chuuk Public Service Commission Board (PSC) approved a teacher salary reclassification plan in 2008 that would allow teachers with degrees to apply for a higher salary. PSC decided to make the reclassification pay retroactive to the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year which began in October of 2008. The Chuuk Department of Education spent over $1 million on retroactive payments to approximately 300 teachers.

The audit said that the motive behind the reclassification scheme was to attract more teachers with college degrees by increasing salaries for teachers who have them and to provide a financial incentive for existing teachers to obtain college degrees. Of the 31 teachers hired between May 1, 2009 and March 11, 2010, 29 (94%) of them had degrees. Of Chuuk's 592 school teachers 368 (62%) of them have degrees including the new hires.

OPA reviewed a total of 66 of the fi les for teachers who had been reclassified under the plan. 30 of the fi les were selected based on informal information brought to auditors' attention that the individual might not be college graduates. 36 were randomly selected.

One of the files contained a copy of a diploma that appeared to have been forged. Auditors contacted the college where that teacher supposedly graduated and was told that the teacher had not graduated from that institution. That matter has been referred to the Compliance Investigation Division.

The Chuuk Department of Education told the auditors that it requires teachers to bring an original diploma to the DOE personnel office as proof that the individual earned an AA or BA degree and that DOE staff then make a copy of the diploma for the employee's personnel file and return the original diploma to the employee.

Auditors said that because of social pres-sure, DOE staff members might be tempted to accept a copy of a diploma which might be real or might be fictitious. "Given that access to copy machines, computers, and printers makes it easy to create falsified records. They recommended that either DOE or PSC verify teacher graduation status directly from the university or college.

Auditors verified the graduation status of the 65 other teachers sampled from the Chuuk DOE records and concluded from their analysis that the problem of teacher's submitting fictitious diplomas has not been widespread. Their recommendation was to made in order to eliminate the possibility.

The audit said that there were seven cases in which teachers were incorrectly reclassified based on their number of years of experience. They ruled out fraud because in five of the cases the teachers were underpaid a total of $4,376 for the year. One teacher was overpaid $676 for the year and the seventh individual's pay was not affect-ed by miscalculations in reclassification.