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Senators Question Whether St. Croix Schools Get Equal Treatment

Feb 24, 2005 – When the Senate Education, Culture and Youth Committee met in Frederiksted Wednesday, it was the same lament heard so many different times. What about St. Croix?
Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville, Terrence "Positive" Nelson
and Usie Richards had questions indicating they were concerned education department officials were not even assessing the needs of St. Croix schools. Although education officials admitted that the 39 operation and maintenance employees were not enough to keep St. Croix schools up to standards, no determination had been made about on how many employees were actually needed. Such an assessment had been made concerning St. Thomas schools and presented in a written form to the committee the previous evening.
On questioning by Richards, Louis Hughes, territorial director, plant operations, said he knew in his head that St. Croix department of education needed more maintenance employees on St. Croix. On follow up questioning from Figueroa-Serville, he said St. Croix needed at least two more plumbers, two more electricians and six more laborers.
Noreen Michael, Education commissioner, testified that when there is a money crunch the education department makes sure it keeps teachers in every classroom, and it is other areas that take the hit.
Michael said, because many of the custodial staff were older, certain things could not be done.
After one particular harsh criticism from a senator, Hughes responded that maintenance at schools is different from maintenance elsewhere. He said things had to be fixed immediately. He said, if the plumbing went and was not fixed within an hour or two, "school is closed." He admitted that repairs in these situations were quick fixes and did not always last.
Richards said, "We continue to appropriate money to patch over what we patched last year."
Figueroa-Serville also had concerns about communication between the central staff and building administrators.
He had letters from the Central High School principal concerning issues that needed to be addressed for the school accreditation process. No administrator could say they had answered those letters.
Figueroa-Serville said, "I am personally ashamed that in the Virgin Islands our main high school is not accredited."
He said he had learned that Hovensa had been offering help to Central High School so it could achieve accreditation, but because of lack of communication, Hovensa was dropping out of the picture.
Michael said she did not believe that was the case, that she had recently talked to Alex Moorhead, vice president of Hovensa, and that she would set up another meeting with him.
Nelson brought up air quality studies done at the schools and questioned why this – being a health issue – was not made first priority.
Terrence Joseph, superintendent of schools, said when air quality was found to be bad at one school, the library was closed down.
This discussion broke down as Nelson claimed that, when he was a teacher in the school system and there was a strike, Joseph had bumped him with a car.
Joseph countered that this was "character assassination."
Richards stated that all the problems at the schools could not be attributed to administrators. He mentioned vandalism. He said, "We have people in our community destroying what we need, what the administrators worked very hard to get."
Sen. Liston Davis, committee chairman, urged Michael to use her access to the Gov. Charles Turnbull to emphasize to him the importance of maintaining the schools.
Sen. Ronald Russell brought up questions that he had brought up when he chaired the Education Committee in the 25th Legislature and held a similar hearing on St. Croix.
In the hearing last fall he had questioned Michael extensively about electronic surveillance cameras being installed at the schools. He said he was under the impression that had been completed, but he was now hearing in Michael's opening remarks that it would not be started until next month.
Michael said that the program Russell was referring to had been completed. She said the cameras she was referring were for all the schools on St. Croix. She said the original project just covered a couple schools.
Committee members attending the hearing were: Sens. Davis, Figueroa-Serville, Richards, Russell and Nelson.
The committee held a hearing Tuesday on St. Thomas to address the concerns of that island. A hearing will take place next Monday on St. John.
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