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Education Board Asks Senators for $1 Million Budget Increase

July 16, 2007 — The Board of Education defended a budget request of $2.7 million in general funds during preliminary budget hearings in Frederiksted Monday, a $1 million increase from last year.
The board’s total budget includes a small amount of federal funding and about $675,000 it expects to collect from delinquent student loans. The total proposed 2008 operating budget for the board is $3.4 million.
About $1 million of that budget is slated to pay for various scholarships. Many of the scholarship awards are now between $700 and $1,500 and so are not very meaningful, said Board Chairwoman Debra Smith-Watlington.
The increased budget request includes increased funding for nearly every aspect of board operations: scholarships, teacher-certification efforts, improvements to board offices, travel to conferences and three new vehicles to replace much of its current fleet of four.
The board also wants to hire four new employees: an assistant executive director to oversee the staff and carry out the board’s policies, two information-systems specialists and an accountant.
“The accountant is desperately needed, as the board is functioning with one fiscal officer who has no individual to double check the financial-accounting system,” Watlington said. “This is an ineffective accounting practice and must be corrected.”
Watlington briefed the committee on the board’s ongoing efforts to certify more teachers as highly qualified.
“It has been made clear the U.S. Department of Education will not pay salaries from federal funding for teachers who are not highly qualified,” she said. “Presently, the figure of highly qualified teachers is less than 20 percent.”
Watlington outlined a two-pronged approach to teacher certification. One prong is the implementation of Praxis II exams in support of certification. These tests are more rigorous than the old Praxis I tests. They are designed for the needs of the specific district, and the V.I. Praxis II was put together earlier this year by a panel of local and national experts.
“Teachers will soon be able to sit these exams so they may be considered highly qualified,” Watlington said. “As soon as the tests are available to all teachers, you will see a big increase in the numbers.”
The second prong of attack is the creation of an alternative route to certification for veteran teachers. The highly objective, uniform, standard state evaluation (HOUSSE) is an alternative, expedited certification mechanism defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The board is implementing a local version of the HOUSSE and plans to set up a system next year where teachers will be able to submit all their documentation electronically.
“This fiscal year the board has certified approximately 180 professionals,” Watlington said. “Next year it is projected that the board will be able to certify another 300 professionals and re-certify another 200 professionals, for a total of 500 certifications.”
The goal is to have all teachers certified by 2012, she said.
The elected Board of Education primarily certifies teachers and awards scholarships. It also exercises oversight and acts in an advisory capacity over Education, recommending school locations, hearing complaints, visiting schools for inspection, approving textbooks and performing other similar functions. The territorial board has less power than most other U.S. boards of education, which generally select school-district superintendents and have direct oversight over the school-system budget, Watlington said.
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