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Education Commissioner Obeys Subpoena, Reports to Board of Education

June 28, 2006 — Education Commissioner Noreen Michael, subpoenaed to a special Board of Education meeting Wednesday, reported on several pending school issues, including school security, hiring school monitors and summer maintenance.
In her written statement to the board, Michael reported that the installation of security cameras at several schools in St. Croix will be completed June 29. Michael explained that the process involved in outfitting the schools with security cameras was done in two phases. Requests for Proposals were issued for each phase, she said. Phase one was an assessment of the security needs of five St. Croix schools, including a plan for the placement of cameras. The second phase used the information gathered as a scope of work for contractors to submit bids and install the equipment and its supporting technology. Contracts for both phases were awarded to Alert 1, a security company based in St. Thomas.
Kevin Cogan, Alert 1's representative, told the board that his company was awarded the $1.8 million contract, however, he said the scope of work was reduced by $140,000 because of a shortfall in Department of Education funds.
Michael told the board Wednesday that it is illegal for the government to enter into a contract without sufficient funds, so the contract had to be reduced. Michael further stated that additional security cameras were provided by a grant from the Law Enforcement Planning Committee and assured the board that the newly placed security measures were sufficient.
"I am not aware of any situation that the school [security] was compromised," said Michael.
Board member, Debra Smith Watlington asked the commissioner, "Are you satisfied with the quality and quantity of the cameras?"
Michael declined to comment on her satisfaction of the security system until she had a chance to walk through the campuses with the school administrators.
Regarding the employment of additional school monitors for the St. Croix Educational Complex, Michael reported five positions are being advertised. The final date for interested persons to apply is June 30.
St. Croix Insular Superintendent of Schools Cecelia Knowles said the school presently has five monitors and that a special appropriation from the Legislature allowed the department to hire five new monitors for the upcoming school year. She said the one-time appropriation would allow the monitors to be paid until the department's new fiscal year budget is approved.
Michael said the department "moved aggressively" earlier in the year to prepare for summer repairs and maintenance of schools. She said the scope of work for each school was determined by submissions from school administrators and from information gathered through on-site inspections by the Department of Public Works and HTA Caribbean Systems Engineering. Some work will be completed by in-house personnel, she said.
Additionally, the anti-litter and beautification summer maintenance program will employ 120 students, who will work three days a week for four weeks performing painting, landscaping and clean-up duties.
Michael said capital improvements, including roof repairs, are scheduled for Pearl B. Larsen, Elena Christian, Arthur A. Richards, Eulalie Rivera and Alfredo Andrews Schools. Capital improvements, described as projects in excess of $50,000, are handled by the Department of Property and Procurement, Michael explained.
Board member Jorge Galiber expressed his concern regarding increased demand for electrical power in the schools, especially because of upgraded computer systems and air conditioning units. He asked the commissioner if licensed electricians have inspected the schools.
"It is a concern especially for the older facilities," Michael said, adding that there needs to be a "systemic review" of the electrical needs of the schools.
Michael committed to a hands-on approach during the completion of the summer maintenance schedule. She said she will be making regular visits to monitor the progress in the schools.
"We are going to be visible throughout the summer," Michael said.
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