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Officials Tight-lipped on Meeting Education Deadline

April 14, 2005 – One day before the April 15 deadline given to the V.I. government to respond to a letter from the U.S. Department of Education, officials remained tight-lipped as to whether the response has been sent.
In his March 31 letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, USDOE Undersecretary Edward McPherson said his agency was concerned about the "lack of progress" made by the V.I. government in meeting the provisions and requirements of the compliance agreement between the two entities. The local government entered into the agreement with the USDOE in September of 2002, and the agreement will expire in September of this year.
The local government was given 15 days from the date of the letter to address McPherson's concerns – mainly to provide good reason why the federal government should not take "immediate remedial action" against the V.I. government for its failure to comply with the agreement. See "Michael: Education Dept. Meets Compliance").
Sen. Liston Davis, chairman of the Senate Education, Culture and Youth Committee, said Thursday afternoon he tried to verify whether the Turnbull Administration had responded to the USDOE's letter, but the department heads were "tight-lipped" about the matter.
Education Commissioner Noreen Michael told senators at an April 7 hearing that Office of Management and Budget Director Ira Mills was gathering information from all stakeholders to present a response to the USDOE. Michael said at the time she believed a response would soon be sent to the USDOE.
However, Davis doubts that was done because he had not received any indication from the education officials that a response was sent.
"I am rather pessimistic that they will be able to be in compliance with the USDOE's demands by tomorrow," Davis said. "If they are, I'm happy for them, but I doubt that."
Michael did not personally return calls from the Source on Thursday, but she did have her secretary, Karen Turnbull, reply to instruct the reporter to call Mills about the matter.
The Source, having been informed that Mills does not respond to reporters on the phone, faxed a written inquiry to Mills' office last Friday about the government's response to the USDOE. Mills never responded.
When contacted Thursday afternoon, Mills' special assistant, Al Simmonds, said they had received the written inquiry but did not have time to respond to it because their office had been working on a response to the USDOE and were "still working on it."
Simmonds would not comment any further on the statement, and Mills never returned the reporter's call on whether a response would be sent by Friday morning.
Calls to Property and Procurement Commissioner Marc Biggs, who is also a signatory to the compliance agreement, and James O'Bryan, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator and spokesman for the governor, also were not returned. Board of Education Executive Director Tregenza Roach was off-island.
In his letter to the government, McPherson stated that failure to respond by the April 15 deadline, meant a mandatory third-party fiduciary would have to be set in place by July 1 before any more federal education funds could be drawn down by the local Education Department. This third-party custodian would manage all federal funds received by the Education Department.
Davis said publicly Thursday afternoon that the third-party custodian was equivalent to a chief financial officer, which Turnbull has been fighting against. Davis said he could not understand how the government could allow something like this to happen when it had "ample opportunity" to draft a response to the USDOE. He said the USDOE had warned the government about the third-party custodian in February, when they had a compliance meeting with all the stakeholders.
"That is why they are under the gun," Davis said. "Because they take too long to do things."

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