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President Makes Case for Higher UVI Budget Request

Aug. 3, 2007 — Laverne Ragster, President of the University of the Virgin Islands, defended a 2008 budget request of $36.3 million before the Senate Finance Committee Friday in Frederiksted.
That amount is $2.3 million and 6.37 percent more than recommended in Gov. John deJongh Jr.’s budget proposal. It is an increase of just under 600,000, or 1.65 percent more than UVI’s 2007 legislative appropriation.
Much of the additional amount will pay for a three-percent salary increase, a three-percent increase in general operating costs and a 25-percent increase in utilities, Ragster said. The rest will go to what she described as critical plant and equipment renewal. She and UVI’s board of trustees have communicated these increases to the governor and believed the administration to be either neutral or supportive of the request, Ragster said.
The legislative appropriation constitutes 62 percent of UVI’s unrestricted operating revenues. Tuition and fees from students provide another 21 percent, room and board and other such fees bring in 11 percent, endowment income and foundation grants four percent and the last two percent comes from programs they UVI sponsors in the community. That is unrestricted revenue.
The university also receives $17 million in restricted grants from an array of sources, including government agencies. These funds are earmarked for specific programs and purposes, so are not part of the school’s general operating revenue.
The total 2008 projected revenues for UVI, including funds from all sources, is $66.2 million, according to Provost Al Hassan I. Musah.
UVI should be commended for the quality of its accounting, Sen. Louis Hill said. Ragster testified that for the first time in 20 years, an internal annual audit of the university’s federal financial-assistance programs had found no problems to report.
“I’ve never heard of an audit report with no problems,” Hill said. “Congratulations on having zero errors and problems. Maybe you could share your expertise with the rest of the government.”
Hill was broadly supportive of the role of UVI and higher education in general for the V.I. economy.
“In the Virgin Islands we gripe about people coming into the territory and taking up jobs,” Hill said. “The fact of the matter is, if we don’t train and educate here, we will be getting those jobs filled from outside. Nurses, teachers, policemen — an enormous amount of jobs are available here today. The question is, do we have the human resources to fill them? The answer is no, and the solution is UVI.”
Hill then asked about the demographic makeup of UVI’s student body. Ragster said there seemed to be a misconception in the community about this and referred the question to Musah.
“As of last year, 91 percent of UVI students are permanent Virgin Islands residents,” Musah said. “Then seven percent are what are termed international, mostly from other Caribbean nations. And two percent come from the mainland.”
Friday’s committee hearing was informational. The budget appropriation will be revisited and voted on in upcoming budget hearings of the full Senate.
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