Aug. 30, 2002 – The governor's nomination of acting Education Commissioner Noreen Michael to fill the position on a permanent basis may face tough sledding in the Legislature.
In submitting Michael's nomination to the 24th Legislature on Thursday, Turnbull said he has been impressed by her performance. He said Michael shares his "vision and commitment to providing all V.I. children with the necessary tools" to improve the quality of learning throughout the territory.
Sen. Carlton Dowe, Rules Committee chair, said on Friday that while he is pleased to see the governor has made a choice, he is not prepared to consider Michael's nomination without proof that the Education Department has complied with the mandates of legislation enacted in June relating to site-based schools management.
Site-based management is one of the conditions the territory must meet in order to secure reaccreditation for the territory's three public high schools. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools withdrew that accreditation last November.
Michael, who was assistant commissioner under her predecessor, Ruby Simmonds, was named acting commissioner when Gov. Charles W. Turnbull fired Simmonds at the end of April after the territory's appeal of the loss of accreditation was denied.
The June legislation Dowe cited calls for:
– The establishment of a substitute teacher pool, with junior and senior high school principals authorized to issue payroll checks.
– The establishment of an Imprest Fund checking account of $50,000 for each public school, with the school principal or vice principal the sole authority to write checks. The fund is to be audited annually by the Inspector General, and its records are to be maintained by the Finance Department.
– The appointment of a fiscal officer for each junior and senior high school.
Dowe said administration officials "must put some money in the principals' hands. If they're really supporting Michael, that's what they need to do." He added, "The budget director will have to work with her on that to make these things happen."
Dowe said he is writing the governor about these concerns and that he is anxious to schedule a Rules Committee meeting to consider Michael's nomination and to start the interview process with her. However, he said, at that same meeting he wants to consider nominees to fill vacancies on the Board of Land Use Appeals.
"I want to put the governor on notice that we need seven nominees," Dowe said,. "We need to get some money circulating in this territory, so education, itself, will get some money."
Vernelle de Lagarde, president of the American Federation of Teachers St. Thomas-St. John chapter, said the union "did not make any recommendation in terms of our choice for commissioner. We are basically more concerned in having the Education agenda pushed forward for V.I. children. We are concentrating on the priorities of reaccreditation, adequate spending of Education funds, maintenance, personnel, supplies, attractive salaries and retroactive pay."
She added, "We also want to make sure that whoever is there is fair in dealing with our members, respecting our contracts and carrying out the ideals of education. We are willing to work with whoever is there, providing we are all on the same agenda."
De Lagarde said she has worked with Michael this summer in a group headed by Juel Molloy, the governor's chief of staff, that has been dealing with "making education our primary focus." She said the Office of Management and Budget director, the Personnel Division director and Board of Education members also are part of the group. Issues they have addressed include the recent federal compliance agreement governing Education operations; school maintenance; and the status of education in general.
"The group is continuing to meet," de Lagarde said, describing it as very productive.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Legislature's Education Committee, said while he, too, is pleased that the governor has submitted a nominee, he has some reservations about Michael.
"Certainly, the governor's decision will empower her to make some authoritative decisions without derailment by subordinates," Jn Baptiste said. "However, I have to await her appearance before the Rules Committee and make a thorough assessment to prove the effectiveness and efficacy of her leadership."
For the successful operation of the Education Department, he added, "At this point in time, we need stable leadership. The department is faced with a myriad of problems, and we need someone who can demonstrate he or she has the wherewithall to provide strong leadership."
Jn Baptiste had been critical of Michael in July after she failed to provide his committee reports on site-based management and policies for a reliable substitute teacher pool by a June 30 deadline. Both were critical issues in the loss of accreditation last November for Central, Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean High Schools. The fourth public high school, Educational Complex, has never been accredited.
In a letter after the June 30 deadline passed, Jn Baptiste told Michael, "Commissioner, as you are aware, issues relative to the implementation of site-based management and a substitute teacher pool remain critical to the reaccreditation … and as such should be given the utmost priority."
Michael had said at the time that she would submit the reports by July 31, and Jn Baptiste said she did subsequently did so. But he said he still has many questions about the issues involved.
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