Aug. 19, 2003 – The government's largest department, Education, submitted a Fiscal Year 2004 budget trimmed $2.1 million from the current year to the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, while the Board of Education requested the same funding as for FY 2003 and the Property and Procurement Department asked for $51,204 more.
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said that her department was able to reduce the budget by utilizing funding from the Casino Revolving Fund to help meet shortfalls in the areas of materials, supplies and capital spending.
The department requested an appropriation of $145.7 million from the General Fund. In so doing, Michael said, "we have zero-funded critically needed vacant positions and reduced funding in areas of materials, supplies and capital outlay."
In a hearing that lasted for about five hours, she told the committee that her department and the Board of Education jointly provided the funding this summer for 209 teachers to take courses at the University of the Virgin Islands that they need to obtain teacher certification. The department also will pay for 50 teachers, 25 from each district, to enroll in fall UVI classes leading to certification, she said.
Michael also testified that the department is working toward securing accreditation of the four public high schools in the territory, including Ivanna Eudora Kean, which was denied candidacy status for accreditation last spring by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Kean, Central and Charlotte Amalie had their accreditation withdrawn by Middle States in November of 2001 after years of warnings about deficiencies. Central, CAHS and Educational Complex, which has not previously been certified, have been approved for candidacy.
"We are committed to providing the type of assistance that will result in Ivanna Eudora Kean High School requesting [another] candidacy visit by the end of December," Michael said. "We have started providing that support with the appointment of a principal instead of retaining an acting principal, the identification of a nurse for the school, and the department's request to the Office of Management and Budget for the release of the $2 million appropriated for the construction of a track and field" facility.
Sen. Roosevelt David asked Michael for specifics of how much of the Education Department's funding goes for instruction and materials. She responded that 86 percent goes to fund personnel and fringe benefits — $100.3 million for personnel and $27.3 million for fringe benefits. "We are a personnel-intensive department," she said.
In addition to a teacher in every classroom, the department employs librarians, food service workers, nurses, paraprofessionals and support staff, she said.
Criticism of the department's personnel costs has traditionally focused on what is widely perceived as a top-heavy and bloated central office administration, and not on the staffing of individual schools.
Michael gave the breakdown of the requested FY 2004 budget as:
$100.3 million for personnel.
$27.3 million for employee benefits.
$12.3 million for miscellaneous services and charges.
$8.7 million for professional services.
$3.9 million for utilities.
$1.7 million for supplies.
$540,550 for telephone service.
$49,230 for rent of land and buildings.
$9,500 for travel.
Sen. Luther Renee stated that education is key to the territory's economic growth and expressed the wish that the teaching of economics be required in the classroom from an early age.
Sen. Louis Hill said that the problem with the Education Department is that it is a political entity that needs to be independent of the government.
Also questioning Michael were the committee chair, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, and Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone, Ronald Russell and Celestino A. White Sr. All but Liburd and White are members of the Finance Committee.
Board of Education
Harry Daniel, president of the Board of Education, said the board will be able to maintain its current operating funding level by implementing creative and innovative strategies.
The board has limited the use of vehicles and long-distance telephone calls, minimized travel cost with the use of videoconferencing, and eliminated $60,000 in rental costs on St. Thomas by purchasing is own facility, he said.
Hill had a major problem with the budget however: the $85,000 salary allotted for the vacant position of executive director. He pointed out that the salary of Commissioner of Education, who has more that 275 employees, is $85,000. The school board executive director manages 13 employees.
"I don't understand the equity in this government," Hill said.
Keith Richards, school board secretary, argued that Hill's statement was unfair, saying the commissioner is in fact underpaid because of the level of work and the number of employees on her staff.
"We have to determine what the salary is going to be," Richards said of the executive director's position.
Evadney Hodge retired recently as executive director but has been contracted by the board to stay on for 90 days — into September — while the search for a successor proceeds. Currently she is being paid $40.83 an hour.
The job description of the executive director calls for a master's degree, knowledge of the V.I. education system, knowledge of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, running the day-to-day operations of the board, overseeing loans and scholarship programs, and carrying out research for the board.
Daniel said if the board does not hire a new executive director by September, they might have the renegotiate with Hodge to stay on a while longer.
For FY 2004, he said, the board plans to make $50,000 available to cover tuition at UVI for courses required for teacher certification. These include classes in special education, educational technology and V.I. history and seminars to prepare for the territory's teacher proficiency exam.
Asked by senators about internal dissent that has plagued the board in recent months, Daniel said the problems the body faced a few months ago are not a same place they were. In the spring, five board members ousted Jorge Galiber as chair, elected Daniel as his successor, put recently hired board counsel Nandi Sekou on disciplinary leave because of her clashes with Hodge, and hired an outside lawyer to represent the board in a lawsuit filed by Galiber seeking to have the court overturn his removal as chair.
"The majority of us have moved on with the duties of the Board of Education," Daniel said on Monday.
Donastorg asked about attorney Sekou's status. Daniel responded that she is an unclassified employee.
Donastorg stated that it is unfortunate that another attorney had to be hired to deal with Galiber's lawsuit against the board. Sekou cannot deal with the case because it is board member against board member, it was stated..
Property and Procurement Department
Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs testified that his staff is at the stage of burnout as personnel continue to do more with less. There were 188 employees in 1999, he said, but there are 125 now, and only 119 are full time.
"The absence of those 63 employees [is] felt on a daily basis," he said. "Human resources are stretched to the maximum, our work load has increased and our services have expanded."
The department's FY 2004 budget request is $15.9 million.
Biggs requested $4.5 million from the General fund. He also asked for:
$326,820 from the Transportation Revolving fund.
$97,720 from the Indirect Cost Fund.
$1.8 million from the Business and Commercial Revolving Fund.
Biggs said the department in recent years has received inadequate funding for utilities, rent, telephones and the costs of leasing and renting copy machines. "This has caused seve
re hardship for us, because we've always had to utilize funding from other areas/sources to cover these critical cost," he said.
He also said there is a need to create a contingency fund of $350,000 for providing emergency homeland security services in case of a terrorism threat.
Malone pointed out that the department is currently operating at a deficit with $179,000 spent out of an allotment of $180,000 and bills to pay.
"We have not receive any further funds since April," Biggs said, and the department owes $288,000 in rent on St. Thomas and $240,000 on St. Croix.
Biggs said his goals for FY 2004 include:
– Rewiring the St. Croix main building at a cost of $5,000.
– Installing a backup computer system domain controller server on St. Croix — $5,000.
– Upgrading network servers and clients to Window 2000 — $25,000.
– Restoring malfunctioned systems and revitalizing "failed initiatives" such as videoconferencing and the department's Web site — $3,000.
– Revisiting automation initiatives for central stores, the motor pool and procurement.
Malone said he sees opportunities in the department's printing division to save the government costs and generate revenue. Earle Ottley, director of printing, told the committee that once the division receives its allotments, printing could be done for the government and the private sector at half the cost charged by private sector competitors.
Hill expressed concern about being fair to the private sector.
Ottley said the division wants to entice government agencies to begin using Property and Procurement for its printing jobs again. "I think there is plenty of printing for everyone," he said.
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