Aug. 26, 2002 – On the eve of students' return to classes for the start of the new academic year, Government House announced late Monday afternoon that Rosalia Payne had been removed from the position of superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John district, and that William Frett, assistant superintendent, had been named chief of operations for the district.
Payne, a former elementary school principal who was named superintendent in the early days of the Turnbull administration, was placed on administrative leave by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull effective Monday and "will be notified shortly of her new assignment," the release stated.
The possibility of a shift in the superintendent's office had been the subject of speculation in Education Department circles since last spring. During a tour on Aug. 20 of school buildings being readied for opening day, Payne dismissed questions by a reporter about criticism of her office, saying such comments might have come from "disgruntled employees."
Payne incensed other top Education administrators at a meeting last spring where she publicly criticized several of them, naming names of some who were in attendance and some who were not. According to individuals familiar with the situation, some department officials wrote to Turnbull afterward asking that Payne be removed from her post.
Another controversy had hung over the superintendent since the fall of 2000, when Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds canceled all administrative leave during a three-week teachers' strike. In Payne's case, Turnbull overruled Simmonds, telling the superintendent she could go on a 10-day cruise that she had planned for the time in question. At that time, Frett, as deputy St. Thomas-St. John superintendent, served as acting superintendent in her absence
Few people were willing to comment about the announcement Monday night, and those who were spoke on condition of anonymity. One retired educator said the move may have been an attempt to appease school administrators whose political support will be needed in the November general election.
According to this individual, "There was a heated discussion among principals and teachers who threatened the governor they would not support him in the coming election" if Payne remained on as superintendent.
At the end of April, Turnbull fired Simmonds, his choice of Education commissioner even before he took office in 1999. The immediate cause of Simmonds' firing was rejection by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools of the territory's appeal of its withdrawal of accreditation for the three V.I. public high schools that had been accredited.
Noreen Michael, who had been assistant commissioner under Simmonds, was named acting commissioner; Turnbull has yet to propose a permanent successor.
Frett's interim appointment Monday raised further speculation. According to knowledgeable Education authorities, he has been making plans to retire this year.
After teaching English for several years at Charlotte Amalie High School, Frett was appointed special assistant to then-Education Commissioner Charles W. Turnbull. But Education insiders said the commissioner and his special assistant "couldn't get along." Frett then reportedly returned to teaching at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and in the mid-1980s was promoted to school principal. By 1987, he was assigned to an administrative job within the department, where he served as district director of curriculum instruction and technology.
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