Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s High Court Clears Way for Vouchers, Charter Schools

Source: Andrew Ujifusa, Education Week, August 10, 2018

Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has dismissed a legal challenge to the U.S. territory’s plans to allow charter schools and vouchers, spelling a potential end to one of the biggest controversies about the island’s education system since two major hurricanes hit the island last year. Earlier this year, the island’s government approved a plan to create “alianza” schools, which are intended to be like charter schools, as well as a “free school” selection program similar to vouchers. …

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Puerto Rico’s Teachers Battle for the Schools Their Students Deserve
Source: Jesse Hagopian, The Progressive, May 9, 2018
 
On May Day, thousands of Puerto Rican teachers, parents, and students launched strikes and boycotts to push back against austerity measures that would close nearly 300 schools, lay off 7,000 teachers, convert public schools into privatized charters, and cut public sector pensions. I spoke with Mercedes Martinez, President of Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, about the neoliberal attack on the schools and public sector, the worker strikes and boycotts of May Day, and the brutal response of the police. …

Puerto Rico Plans to Shutter 283 Schools
Source: AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 6, 2018
 
The Puerto Rico Department of Education announced late Thursday that it would close 283 public schools next school year, citing a decline in enrollment of nearly 39,000 students and the island’s ongoing budget crisis.  “Our children deserve the best education we are capable of giving them taking into account the fiscal reality of Puerto Rico,” Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Julia Keleher said in a statement issued in Spanish Thursday evening. “Therefore we are working hard to develop a budget that will allow us to focus resources on student needs and improve the quality of teaching.” In early February, Keleher and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló introduced a sweeping education reform plan that called for closing several hundred schools over the next several years and introducing charter schools to the island. The governor estimates the plan will help save $466 million per year by 2022, according to figures in his most recent fiscal plan meant to address the island’s staggering $120 billion in outstanding debts and obligations. Those figures do not take into account the estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ruling unlikely to end Puerto Rico Oversight Board struggle with local government

Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, July 24, 2018 (Subscription Required)

Puerto Rico bankruptcy judge Laura Taylor Swain’s anticipated ruling on the relative powers of the Oversight Board and the local government is unlikely to end the battle for authority over the debt-burdened U.S. territory. Swain will hear oral arguments Wednesday on an adversary complaint filed earlier this month in the Title II bankruptcy case by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, in which he argued the local government can’t be forced to follow parts of the board’s fiscal plan that deal with policy. Governance issues are likely to remain whatever her ruling, observers said. … Other Puerto Rico government sectors have followed the government in filing adversary complaints challenging the board’s power. On July 9 Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rico House President Carlos Méndez Núñez filed a complaint similar to the governor’s. On Tuesday the biggest minority party in Puerto Rico, the Popular Democratic Party, said it planned to submit an adversary complaint on different grounds on the same day. …

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Puerto Rico governor names new utility head after board members quit
Source: Reuters, July 18, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s governor on Wednesday named a new executive director of the bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), following the resignation of its former head and four of the utility’s seven-member board last week.  Jose Ortiz will replace Rafael Diaz-Granados, who quit a day after being named executive director, leaving the utility with no leadership amid a massive restructuring effort following devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last September.  Diaz-Granados and the four other board members resigned after Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello blasted them for agreeing to pay Diaz-Granados an annual salary of $750,000. The PREPA board unanimously elected Ortiz, an engineer, to the post on Wednesday, Rosello’s office said in a tweet. Ortiz, the fifth PREPA executive director named since the hurricane devastated the island and its electric grid last September, is due to take office on July 23. …

Puerto Rico Bondholders Win Ruling Against U.S.
Source: Andrew Scurria, Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018
 
A federal judge has refused to absolve the U.S. government of liability for investors’ losses on Puerto Rico bonds, a potential blow to efforts to write down the U.S. territory’s $73 billion debt load.  The ruling issued Friday by Judge Susan G. Braden of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an incremental victory for hedge funds fighting to get repaid on the $3 billion in Puerto Rico pension bonds These creditors have targeted the U.S. directly, saying the federal government should make them whole for enacting a 2016 law that set them up for losses.  The lawsuit strikes at the heart of the rescue law, known as Promesa, designed to tackle the U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis. Promesa was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout of Puerto Rico, creating a court-supervised process for wringing debt reductions from creditors instead. …

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Puerto Rico looks to privatize its prison system

Source: Beryl Lipton, Muckrock, April 24, 2018

As part of efforts to rebuild and restructure Puerto Rico after last fall’s destructive hurricane season, the island territory is actively planning to use private prisons on the mainland to house a third of its current inmate population. The “New Fiscal Plan for Puerto Rico,” approved last month by the Puerto Rico Fiscal Oversight Board, included “externalization of imprisonment services” as a key part of the Department of Corrections Transformation Plan. According to the proposed estimates, the move, if successful, would decrease costs for the affected population by about 15%….No company in particular has yet emerged as a front runner in the current Request for Proposals bidding process. An informational meeting was held today for interested parties, all of whom were expected to bring a 5% “bid bond.” ….

FEMA faulted for failed contracts to deliver hurricane aid

Source: Associated Press, April 10, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts for hurricane supplies without adequately researching whether winning bidders could deliver what they promised, according to a new investigation by Democrats on a Senate oversight committee. The investigation followed disclosures by The Associated Press in November that a newly created Florida company with an unproven record had won more than $30 million in FEMA contracts to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting for repairs after Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico. That vendor, Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida, never delivered those urgently needed supplies. The report from Democrats on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs described failures by the Trump administration that prevented timely delivery of tarps and sheeting to hurricane victims after the summer’s storms. It focused on the Bronze Star contract and another awarded to Global Computers and Networks LLC of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. …

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Lawmakers seek probes of award for Hurricane Maria tarps
Source: Tami Abdollah, Associated Press, December 1, 2017

Democrats in Congress are pushing for investigations into how the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts worth $30 million to a fledgling company for Hurricane Maria disaster supplies that it failed to deliver to Puerto Rico. The senior Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, wrote Thursday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, seeking more information about how FEMA evaluated Bronze Star LLC of St. Cloud, Florida. The Associated Press reported this week that FEMA awarded the small firm contracts for tarps and plastic sheeting that were never delivered. The agency ultimately terminated the contracts earlier this month without paying any money, but the episode caused a delay of four weeks. …

… Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., wants the Homeland Security Department inspector general to investigate. He sought the review in an amendment to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2017, which cleared the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday. Maloney’s amendment cleared the committee with unanimous bipartisan support, though it was unclear when the House will vote on the measure. The amendment specifically requests an inspector general audit of all contracts awarded for tarps and plastic sheeting for the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The review would include the contracting process used to evaluate bidders and award the contracts; the assessment of past performance and technical capacity to fulfill the contracts; and how FEMA ensures the contractors meet the terms. …

Plan to dismantle Puerto Rico’s statistics agency gets green light

Source: Giorgia Gulielmi, Nature, April 5, 2018
 
Puerto Rico’s senators this week approved a plan to overhaul an independent statistics agency tasked with coordinating the collection and analysis of crucial data — including the impact of hurricanes — on the island. The reorganization will wreck the US territory’s ability to produce credible data about itself, including updated estimates of the death toll from Hurricane Maria, critics of the plan say. The 2 April decision paves the way towards restructuring several government agencies, including the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS). Lawmakers must now approve legislation dismantling the laws that established PRIS in order to make the reorganization official. Under Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s plan to reduce the size and cost of government agencies, first introduced in January, PRIS would become an office in the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, which would outsource the institute’s duties to private companies. …

FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.

Source: Patricia Mazzei and Agustin Armendariz, New York Times, February 6, 2018
 
The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.  For this huge task, FEMA tapped Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with no experience in large-scale disaster relief and at least five canceled government contracts in her past. FEMA awarded her $156 million for the job, and Ms. Brown, who is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC, set out to find some help. … By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.” …

Whitefish stops work on Puerto Rico power grid over payment dispute

Source: Brandon Carter, The Hill, November 20, 2017
 
Whitefish Energy, which is under scrutiny over how it was selected for work in Puerto Rico, is halting its efforts on the island’s power grid because it says the local power authority owes it millions of dollars.  In an interview with CNN published Monday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said the company is owed more than $83 million by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and is stopping work because its repeated requests for payment were not fulfilled.  “We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business,” Techmankski said.  The company’s CEO said that it has employed more than 500 contractors and subcontractors on its work to restore the island’s power grid following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ricardo Ramos, embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility, resigns
Source: Phil McCausland, NBC News, November 17, 2017
 
The embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned on Friday, the latest controversy to hit the island as it struggles to bring its electric grid back online. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency, submitted his resignation to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office only a few days after he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee over the controversial contract he approved with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.  A few hours after Ramos resigned, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló recommended the appointment of engineer Justo González as interim director of the public utility.

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 14, 2017

The governor of Puerto Rico and the chief executive of its beleaguered electric company faced hours of questioning on Tuesday in Congress, where skeptical legislators questioned whether to give the island an enormous aid package on the heels of a botched high-priced contract to fix its power grid.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló came to Senate and House committees with a huge ask: $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico “build back better” after Hurricane Maria destroyed or damaged 472,000 homes and knocked out the island’s electricity. He also said that Puerto Rico should have more authority over its own fiscal affairs, and that he had “zero role” in awarding a highly criticized $300 million deal to a small Montana firm to help restore power. …

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Puerto Rico activists fight to keep beaches public

Source: Caribbean News Now, August 10, 2016

Environmental activists and experts in Puerto Rico breathed a sigh of relief when a law that sought to privatize La Parguera, a public maritime zone in the western coast of Lajas, was rejected. But their battle is far from over. Several public beaches and maritime zones are fighting privatization proposals. Project #1621, the bill that was recently rejected, intended to legalize floating water houses or casetas. Illegal casetas have existed in La Parguera for decades. The bill would have legalized these homes, allowed the owners to rent the property for up to 40 years and it would have turned the free public space along the casetas into an exclusive tourism zone. … Project #1621 was only one of several bills that intended to commodify public spaces on the island. In November 2015, an altercation between Marriott hotel’s administration and environmental activists made headline news after a ten year struggle erupted into a protest in Isla Verde Beach in Carolina. The organization Coalición Playas Pa’l Pueblo had established a camp site in Isla Verde over ten years ago to protect free public access in a beach located in the northern city of Carolina. … Another bill proposed this year by the House of Representatives was Project #2853, which intended to legalize the privatization of Puerto Rico’s coastal zones. This project would have created a Trust for Ecotourist Conservation in Puerto Rico under the Department of Natural Resources for granting special licenses for the private use of the coastal maritime zone. The bill was rejected by the Senate, and during the night of its hearing, activists gathered outside the Capitol of Puerto Rico to protest, and activist Alberto de Jesús, better known as “Tito Kayak”, climbed a flag pole and replaced the American flag with one that read “Beaches belong to the people.” …

Puerto Rico governor supports privatizing power production

Source: Associated Press, June 4, 2015

Puerto Rico’s governor said Wednesday that he supports privatizing electricity production in the U.S. territory as officials seek to restructure the island’s troubled public power company.

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Puerto Rico Leaders Battle on Potential PREPA Privatization
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, March 24, 2014
(subscription required)

Puerto Rico’s leaders are at odds over a potential privatization of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. On March 20 Puerto Rico’s Senate passed a series of bills for reforming the commonwealth’s electrical system. …. . One of the bills opened the path for a possible quick privatization of the provision of electricity on the island. This is one of the key things García Padilla opposes about the bills, the governor’s chief of staff, Ingrid Vila Biaggi, told The Bond Buyer.

Puerto Rico Dumps Traffic Cameras, Orders Refunds/ After just a few months, Puerto Rico cancels automated ticketing machine contract, refunding all citations.

Source: theNewspaper.com, January 16, 2015

The public in Puerto Rico complained so loudly about the photo enforcement program that the territory’s government listened. Red light cameras went up at three intersections in October dealing out $250 tickets for making rolling right turns, speeding or having a recently expired vehicle registration. On Thursday, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla (D) had his transportation department refund every ticket issued. … Haste was important, since the program had not become fully operational. A contract clause allowed the transportation department to cancel the deal without paying the $6 million termination fee at any time before the installation was complete. Transportation officials also insist that the photo ticketing firm failed to deliver on its end of the bargain. A no-bid contract was awarded to International Traffic Systems, which also operated in Puerto Rico under the name “National Public Safety Consortium.” In the United States, this entity goes by the name InsureNet, a company run by Jonathan Miller of Georgia. InsureNet sells automated license plate readers and has unsuccessfully lobbied to have automated cameras issue tickets to drivers whose insurance or registration has lapsed in states like Oklahoma and Illinois….