Puerto Rico education, public safety secretaries resign
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Two of Puerto Rico’s most high-profile government officials are resigning following heavy criticism by residents of the U.S. territory over how they performed their jobs.
Education Secretary Julia Keleher, who was appointed in December 2016, stepped down on Tuesday. Public Safety Secretary Héctor Pesquera, appointed in April 2017, is expected to resign by month’s end.
Dennise Pérez, spokeswoman for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, said she did not immediately have further details.
Keleher oversaw the closure of more than 400 schools to save millions of dollars as Puerto Rico continues to see a sharp drop in enrollment amid a recession. In the past three decades, school enrollment has dropped 42%, and an additional 22% drop is expected in upcoming years, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group.
Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers at the time backed the most recent closures, but then joined teachers and parents who complained that transportation logistics and the needs of special education students were not considered.
Aida Díaz, the association’s president, told The Associated Press that she is not surprised by Keleher’s resignation.
“She has created chaos,” Díaz said.
Some, however, have praised Keleher for overhauling what many considered an agency long known for its bureaucracy. She was also preparing to create charter schools and vouchers as ordered by Rosselló in March 2018. Puerto Rico currently has 1,110 public schools and some 319,000 students.
On Tuesday morning, Rosselló announced in a brief Facebook video that professor Eleuterio Álamo would serve as interim education secretary.
“The future is positive for our children,” he said.
Álamo, who was overseeing the agency’s regional office in the capital of San Juan, said he was looking forward to continuing ongoing education reforms.
Meanwhile, a police officers’ union celebrated the upcoming resignation of Pesquera, a former FBI special agent in charge of Puerto Rico who also once served as the island’s police chief.
Pesquera oversaw the Department of Public Safety, a new agency created by the governor just months before Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. Pesquera was later widely criticized for how he handled the aftermath of the Category 4 storm and the nearly 3,000 estimated deaths it caused.
“That resignation should have happened a long time ago,” said Gregorio Matías, vice president of the Association of Organized Police. He added that police officers are demanding more benefits such as disability insurance and better pensions.
Pesquera and Keleher did not return messages for comment.