Aug. 9, 2005 The question of how much summer maintenance will be completed by Aug. 30 is an issue clouding the start of the school year just three weeks away.
Senate Education Committee chair Liston Davis said Tuesday that public school maintenance issues have reached the point where teachers and maintenance workers are proposing action against the Department of Education.
Davis, a former education commissioner, said teachers at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School have told him they will stage a job action if certain concerns aren't addressed by Aug. 30. "The teachers said the schoolrooms are leaking like a sieve," Davis said. "The new roof sections that were supposed to have been put on, have not been."
Maintenance workers also are signing a petition to remove Louis Hughes, Education Department director of maintenance, Davis said. "I met with maintenance workers last Wednesday at the curriculum headquarters in Tutu, and their concerns are legitimate," he said.
"Many problems are still going unabated," Davis continued. "Go to Kirwan Terrace (Elementary School) now and look at all the problems we have on videotape. They are still there untouched." This is to say nothing of Cancryn, where four burned-out classrooms were supposed to have been ready for the 2005 school year. The rooms burned last November. (See "Midnight Fire Cancels Classes at Cancryn")
Davis doesn't hold out much hope for the work to be completed. As for funding the work, Davis said Tuesday, "All I'm familiar with is [Education] Commissioner [Noreen] Michael requested last week a fund transfer of $1.2 million for maintenance $600,000 for each district. That's all I know."
Davis said Tuesday, "I'm hearing it's just $1.2 million for the school repair. What bothered me is that when the commissioner came before us, she said my concerns were unfounded because she had implemented a year-round school maintenance plan. Therefore, she said it was 'no great concern,' just to do a few things that can't be done while school is in session.
"I'm hearing now that the schools need light bulbs, paint, and cleaning. This says to me that they had no plan in the first place."
Davis issued a blistering release Monday criticizing the executive branch for dragging its feet, and in fact, "issuing blatant falsehoods and declarations that a priority list for school maintenance had been developed."
Davis said Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and "top officials" of the Department of Education had told the Senate that "necessary repairs and maintenance were ongoing and that in fact all required maintenance and repairs would be completed by Aug. 30."
In a Senate budget hearing Thursday, Michael said the department was well under way with repairs to the parking lot at the Central High School on St. Croix and has hired a contractor to begin work on classrooms to be converted into science labs.
Although a little behind on school maintenance in the St. Thomas-St. John district, Michael said repairs are also beginning on classrooms damaged by the fire at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School. She also said the department was "moving right along with work on the new track for the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, and working on fixing many of the leaks and drainage problems within the territory's schools."
At that meeting, Davis and other senators took issue with Michael's statements. Sen. Louis Hill had harsh words for Michael's budget request. "You're going to be punished for not performing," Hill said. "Departments that don't perform get line-item budgets. I know that you have had some successes, but I don't think that you're going to get rewarded for them."
Davis referred to a proclamation Turnbull issued July 28 allowing education and other affected departments to bypass the public-bidding requirement for summer school repairs, citing "public exigency." Turnbull waived the section of the V.I. Code governing permitting processes until Sept. 30 to speed up summer maintenance programs.
That order, Davis said in his statement, "lends ample testimony to the fact that I have reiterated ad nauseam: The Education Department has taken absolutely no action to remedy the poor state of our school facilities, despite testimony to the contrary by the Education commissioner and her [supporters], who wittingly or unwittingly assisted her in her gross deception."
The Education Department and Turnbull, Davis said, "have grossly neglected the needs of our public school students, faculty and staff."
A Government House spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon that Keith Richards, the governor's director of capital projects, will issue a release Wednesday about school maintenance funding. Richards did not return calls from the Source on Tuesday. Government House spokesman James O'Bryan was not available to comment. A call to the Education Department's public relations office was not returned.
A look at Cancryn on Tuesday afternoon revealed work moving ahead on the burned classrooms. A crew from Apex Construction was working after 5 p.m. Joseph Hodge, owner of the company, was on site. Although he would not confirm an exact date for completion of the work, he said, "It will be completed before our contract is up." Apex has a 120-day contract which that expires in October. (See "Cancryn School Repairs Finally Begin")
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