Vol. 31 No. 146
       ©2003 Marianas Variety
Monday, October 6, 2003 www.mvariety.com
Serving the CNMI for 31 years

© 2003 Marianas Variety
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Kosrae Teachers Association president speaks up on her appointment

By Olivier Wortel
For Variety

TOFOL, Kosrae — Penina Mackwelung, president of the Kosrae Teachers Association, shrugs off the notion that her appointment by the union of teachers on the island was politically motivated, as some have suggested.
In 1998, her husband lost his bid for a second term as governor to Rensley Sigrah, himself now riding into a second term on the strengths of what some consider significant accomplishments.
With an amended Compact that is considerably delayed, the ride may get bumpy.
Reluctant as she was to accept the post, Mackwelung said the teachers felt that only she could help them succeed in getting their voices heard at the bargaining table with the governor.
In an interview between classes at the high school, Mackwelung stated that the contracts may not be a bad idea, and as someone with a higher degree, might prove beneficial.
Mackwelung, however, said her primary concern as president is to look out for what is best for the group.
She said teachers are unanimous in the opinion that the one-year contracts as currently written, are unacceptable.
“They are not even considering the contracts. There is still so much behind this that we have to understand. Some say they can consider it later, but we believe there are many policies, decisions, and directives that have been made by the whims of our leaders and have flaws that are contrary to our laws,” she said.
She discussed the intent of the contracts: Are they to erode workers rights or to improve the education system? She said that negotiations should be done with good intent, that benefits should be defined clearly, and that the contracts be extended to at least two-year periods.
Grounds for dismissal should also be stated clearly within the contracts, said Mackwelung.
“We know better than to be treated as if we are ignorant or uneducated. What we have been presented with is vague and ambiguous. I want something to be very clear in black and white for our teachers,” she said.
Mackwelung revealed a legal petition that addresses teacher concerns and quotes heavily from the Public Service System. The final portion of the petition tackles the issue of a proposed new teacher classification system, with a test to be administered to classify teachers accordingly. The petition calls this proposal “unlawful and unnecessary.”
Teachers, Mackwelung said, will not take the test designed to reclassify them under the provisions of the new contracts.
Mackwelung said teachers had suggested going on strike. For Mackwelung, however, teachers must see eye to eye with Department of Education administrators and other government leaders in ensuring the best possible environment for students.
“I don’t want to hurt the students. I don’t feel we should use this as leverage against them. If it is a management problem, then we handle it with the management,” she said.