Changes in the leadership of the Education and Public Safety Departments show the challenges surrounding two major goals for the successful development of Puerto Rico: strengthening the education of our citizens and ensuring public safety.
The appointment of Eleuterio Álamo as interim Education secretary and the departure of Héctor Pesquera from the Safety department, just over halfway through the term, call to immediately identify pending tasks in the face of the urgent transformation of both agencies.
The public interest calls to continue with the agenda of structural changes. This will bring stability and a fair chance for success to the plans for administrative efficiency and education quality outlined by former secretary Julia Keleher.
Demographic changes that brought schools enrollment down and the fiscal situation in the whole public structure have led to the transformation of the Department of Education. These circumstances call for efficiency in the use of resources, and to welcome new models that bet on quality education. They include, for example, charter schools and school vouchers, framed in a transparent implementation and accountability.
Keleher leaves the department after designing an education reform, whose implementation has barely begun. The design of a per-student budget and the reconfiguration of educational regions aim at a rational distribution of funds, with a view to allocate more resources to the classrooms.
The administrative restructuring of the now former Secretary seeks to reduce bureaucracy. She introduced compliance and monitoring metrics as a mechanism to monitor programs performance. She began to transfer the administration of some public schools to the private sector. It is up to her successor to monitor the development of the charter schools program and the implementation of school vouchers.
The way schools were consolidated, which included the closure of 422 facilities with adverse effects for many families, gives a lesson on how to alleviate some problems through well-communicated processes, open to the participation of communities in making decisions that affect them.
The repair of schools damaged by Hurricane María and reform initiatives on quality criteria are still pending.
As far as the Department of Public Safety, the Police reform to achieve the ideal of police professionalism is an imperative task. In this sense, the department has to take urgent steps leading to compliance with the Police reform, in light of the agreement between the Government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Department of Justice. This includes, among other points, respect for the civil rights, including minorities.
It is also important to identify those factors that casted doubts upon the Safety umbrella as the model for optimizing protection and prevention measures against criminal activities and in emergencies.
Emerging deficiencies in the Police, the Emergency Management Bureau and the Fire Department must be addressed promptly. The mass exodus of police officers results in a lack of protection against crime, so it is necessary to encourage retention. Meanwhile, the delay in the handling of corpses and other forensic tasks of the Bureau of Forensic Sciences affect the administration of justice.
Two months away from the next hurricane season, they must ensure that the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management will not repeat its poor performance in the aftermath of Hurricane María.
The new leadership of Public Safety and Education face demands for fair pay and decent retirement pay for their public servants while ensuring that reorganization supports public efficiency.