The controversy over Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education’s contract, explained

by | Feb 28, 2017 | Headlines, Puerto Rico | Comments

While there has been lot of talk regarding the debt restructuring and the impending plebiscite, there are several issues that are already making the people of Puerto Rico uneasy.  A new development on January 4, 2017 was met with fallout when it was announced that the new Secretary of Education, Julia Keleher, was going to be making $250,000 dollars a year. Despite her long and diverse career in varied educational departments, and her extensive history as a successful educator, she is facing serious backlash and criticism regarding her new appointment to the Department of Education.

Keleher is under contract with the Governor’s office as Secretary of Education as well as with the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF, La Autoridad de Asesoría Financiera y Agencia Fiscal) with stated plans to restructure the department and curriculum in order to boost school performance, as well as manage funds responsibly. Where she hits a major point of contention in Puerto Rico is in her contractual obligations. Julia is still contracted to teach a class at the American College, George Washington University, and is going to be serving in an advisory role to the islands in the AAFAF. This means that Keleher is collecting a reported $250,000 dollars a year, creating a massive wealth disparity between her and most of the Puerto Rican population.

Many people wonder if she is the best choice for her position, given her high-salary needs.  While certain experts say that a higher wage for government workers would lessen corruption, especially in relatively poor countries, others suggest that in jurisdictions experiencing economic decline or crisis, the result could be an almost total loss of  interest in private markets and would instead lead to a surplus of state work and government officials. In several countries where higher wages were implemented, the corruption seemed to multiply. In practice, what seems to be the driving force between lowering corruption in the government is the normal force of lowering crime everywhere. Ultimately the question becomes where are Keleher’s true interests and principles. She negotiated her own contract at a higher wage, rejecting the normal salary of cabinet officials.

The work that Keleher has done previously could be a great indicator at where she plans to take the Department of Education in Puerto Rico but many still feel the wealth disparity between the students and families in schools and the Secretary are cause for concern, and could lead her to making choices that would not be beneficial to the schools in Puerto Rico

The contractual issues are further convoluted by Governor Rossello flipping on an earlier statement where he said that contracts previously negotiated were voided, and that Keleher was negotiating a new contract for her new position. However as of February 3, 2017, a new contract was registered in the comptroller’s office and it showed that a previously negotiated contract was already implemented and being used. Keleher has said that she is “resigned” to the $250,000 dollar a year salary that that was agreed to, and has subsequently caused an uproar.  Many think that Keleher is not someone that can be trusted to provide the best facilities and education for the children on the islands, due to her lack of understanding of Puerto Rican heritage. Julia Keleher is an outsider from people’s perspective, having being born and worked most of her adult life stateside.

She has been hit hard with criticism for her comments and for her vast wealth disparity in comparison to the people that she works with, namely teachers. With so large a budget cut coming in the near future, the teachers that already only make a fraction of Keleher makes, are worried about their futures, and the future of the education system in Puerto Rico. Keleher has said that no matter what the contract said, that this is a labor of love  she is working with and for the children of Puerto Rico to create a better future and is committed to doing her best for them.