What happened to the 21st Century Schools?

By Jose Enrique Fernandez Bjerg

          Let us not forget in April 2012 when Governor Fortuño's message, with great fanfare, told us: "we have already achieved the first of more than 100 21st Century Schools that we are building through Public-Private Partnerships, at least one in each municipality...". ¹ THE GOVERNMENT WAS NOT TELLING THE TRUTH. A total of 75 schools were remodeled and 6 new schools were built. Approximately 15 schools were taken out of the modernization plan. Making 81 the total number of school communities impacted.²

       The Legislature itself, in the 2014 report by the Public-Private Partnerships Commission on the Schools for the 21st Century Program, found that "[i]n terms of the use of the money available for the Schools for the 21st Century project, the government assumed a debt of more than $750 million to attend 81 schools, which represents less than 10% of the total number of public schools in Puerto Rico."³.

       We now have about 856 schools in need of essential improvements for their use.⁴ You must be surprised by that large number of schools in need of improvements because it is less than 12 years since the great 21st Century Schools Project. The State Government was not efficient in its work of distributing, managing and maximizing resources. The recurrent behavior of the Government and the agencies robbed us of the opportunity to see and enjoy what the direct injection of $750 million to the school communities could have done. Don't take my word for it....

  1. The recommendations of Fielding International, a specialist hired by the State Government, were not followed, resulting in the waste of MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.
  2.  The Public-Private Partnerships created for the 21st Century Schools never complied with the crucial requirement because the private sector did not contribute capital, although it is established in Law 29 of 2009.
  3. The money used for 21st Century Schools was a bond issue which in simple words is a $750 million⁵ LOAN.

Now we are in deficit, more messed up than before and, to top it off, with 856 schools with severe structural problems. Too bad that in 2028 we will start paying off a MILLION DOLLAR debt that was not worth the efforts, since right now we still have the SAME PROBLEM.

But who suffers and ends up paying for this great LIE?

THE PEOPLE OF PUERTO RICO

Next week part 2...

References

1 Governor's Message, April 2014.
2 First Partial Report of the Joint Commission for Public-Private Partnerships of the Legislative Assembly, August 25, 2014.
2014.
3 First Partial Report of the Joint Commission for Public-Private Partnerships of the Legislative Assembly, August 25, 2014.
2014.
4 Secretary of Education reports on advances in school construction and infrastructure, Notisesis. Retrieved from

https://wipr.pr/secretaria-de-educacion-informa-sobre-avances-en-construccion-e-infraestructura-
escolar/#:~:text=Desde%20el%20a%C3%B1o%202021%20hasta,en%20construcci%C3%B3n%20y%20702%20planificadas.

5 Puerto Rico Public Buildings Authority Government Facilities Revenue Bonds, Series R (Qualified School Construction Bonds - Issuer Subsidy) Guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Issuer Subsidy) Guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.