As a parent having two children within the V.I. Department of Education system, I am insulted that Commissioner Michael tells us that there is "no need for alarm" concerning the millions of dollars in federal grant funding having to be returned to the federal government. She cannot justify even the return of $10 in unused or unallocated funding when we look at the chronically ill condition of the Department.
This school year, as in years past, my children are currently taking major, educational courses that the most basic of supplies, BOOKS, are not being provided the instructor, or student, as a necessary tool for the educational process! And, again, Commissioner Michael tells me that there is "no need for alarm." Insulted? You bet I am!
Some instructors are turning to the parents of the students to provide books for their particular subject. Of four major courses my son is enrolled in for this semester at the St. Croix Educational Complex, he has presented me with a mandatory supply list for two of those courses which require that I purchase the books (not workbooks, not lab manuals, but BOOKS) for those particular subjects from the UVI bookstore. Thank God I am able to come up with the funds to do so. What about the parents that are financially unable? One of the courses is Caribbean history! I would think that Caribbean history would be considered by the Department of Education as being a course of such importance to our youth that the proper course books would be part and parcel of the educational tools being provided by the Department.
My children have had many other courses that no course material has been provided to the instructor, or the student. As recently as last semester, algebra was being taught via "blackboard notes" only. The instructor had to physically write the entire course instructional material on the blackboard; the students had to copy the material into their notebooks to facilitate the student having any reference material to study. The budget didn't even provide the necessary funding to the instructors to be able to provide Xerox copies of the applicable material to the students. "No need for alarm?" I beg to differ!
On August 29, 2003, in my frustration with the Department of Education, I wrote another letter to The Source. In revisiting that first letter, I have to laugh at how applicable it is to yet this additional "issue" with the Department. To repeat those same words:
" We, the stalwart citizens of this territory, need to wake up and smell the bush tea! I am growing so weary of this collective government looking to our broken backs to take on more and more of the burden created from their mismanagement, misappropriations, and chronic thievery. Enough is enough.
There is much squeaking and squalling going on these days regarding the exorbitant school fees being imposed on the parents for each attending child. These fees are being charged by the same governmental department whose director just recently appeared before the Senate finance committee hearings submitting a departmental 2004 budget reduced by $2.1 million.
Hello?! Someone explain to me, please, how we can reduce the Department of Education budget by $2.1 million. Has the level of education that our children are receiving risen so drastically that we can now reduce the amount of funding provided to support their learning environment? Yes, it was stated that the shortfall in the areas of materials, supplies and capital spending would be covered by the Casino Revolving Fund. Right!! It appears to me as if this shortfall is being covered by the blood and sweat of the parents who have already paid for all of these shortages via their tax dollars. If we give you the money to pay once, and you screw it up or stuff it in your administratively top-heavy pockets, don't come back again and ask for us to pay a second time. When we go back into our pockets to pay for something we've already paid for we're the ones that are the fools.
This is getting to be truly ridiculous, and more than a bit embarrassing. If one were to research and compare the amounts of federal funding received, per capita, for educational purposes here in the territory, compared with the funding received, per capita, for any of the 50 states, I'm certain that we would drop our heads in shame. It would behoove us, as well, in our research, to compare collective SAT, PSAT and ACT scores and Standardized Equivalency Tests. How, in the name of God, can we look our children in the eyes knowing what a disservice we are allowing this government to impose on them in the name of education? And we wonder what is wrong with this rude, disrespectful, hard, shameless younger generation? It's us. That's what's wrong. We are allowing the situation to be as it is.
Let's do our math. We really need to look at the sum total of dollars being collected by the Department of Education, under the guise of "book fees," for each child within the public school system this school year. I laugh at the thought of the public's reaction when we get the total.
Why should we donate yet more money to this Department? To quote the Inspector General's June 5, 2003, letter to Gov. Turnbull outlining the approximately $1.5 million in equipment that the St. Thomas/St. John District cannot account for: "The Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDE) has had serious and recurring deficiencies in its administration of federally funded programs." . . . Property cannot be effectively tracked and may remain in warehouses, be delivered to incorrect locations or be stolen rather than benefiting students in classrooms."
That's sad, to say the least. Now we, the parents, must dig further into our financially challenged wallets to pay for what they are inept at managing. "
Our youth can receive a quality education in the public school system of the Virgin Islands. But not until government, and the Education Department's administration, decide to do the honorable, righteous thing earn the salary we are paying them!
Bridget L. Cox-Dawson
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