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Congressional Resource Committee Passes St. John School Bill

Oct. 10, 2007 — A bill to authorize the U.S. secretary of the Interior to lease V.I. National Park land on St. John to the local government for a school passed another hurdle Wednesday with approval by the U.S. House of Representatives' Resource Committee.
The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, chaired by Delegate Donna M. Christensen, passed the same bill Sept. 20.
"I am very pleased to see the movement of this important bill, and I thank my chair and the subcommittee staff for their hard work, as well as the One Campus Group for all of the work they are doing to ensure that the school becomes a reality," Christensen said in a news release issued Wednesday.
Christensen held a House hearing about the bill on St. John July 9. The St. John school bill is expected to be on the House floor within the next few weeks before going on to the U.S. Senate.
Members of the One Campus Group, which has worked to obtain land for a school that would serve St. John students in grades kindergarten through 12, said they were elated.
"We're moving forward, but we're trying to get all St. John community groups on board," said One Campus member and St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto.
While the issue has been on the burner for decades, until recently most suggestions centered on the idea of swapping park land with land owned by the local government. Whistling Cay, located off St. John's north shore, was among the properties often discussed.
At the July meeting, Christensen said leasing land was the most feasible way for the project to move forward.
Kristin Cox, co-chair of the One Campus Group, said Wednesday she favors a lease rather than a swap because she wants Interior Department oversight. Local Education Department and government officials have already demonstrated they can't improve education, she said, and she hopes Interior Department involvement will make a difference. The island's children have paid the price for a poor education system, she said.
While Christensen's bill calls for 10 acres to be leased, several testifiers at the July meeting asked that a 55-acre parcel be used for the school. The 10 acres is part of the 55 acres deeded by the late Ethel Bishop to the park. Located mid-island at Catherineberg, it's flat and close to Centerline Road.
Acting Education Commissioner Lynn Spampinato was a key player in the negotiations with the federal government on leasing the land, Monsanto said. Cox also emphasized the importance of Spampinato's involvement in the process, urging residents to write a letter supporting her nomination. She said they could drop the letters off at Guy Benjamin School.
The new school would serve students now attending Julius E. Sprauve in Cruz Bay and Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay, as well as those students who trek off daily on the ferry to St. Thomas to attend Eudora Kean High School.
Sprauve School sits in a busy, noisy and congested area, while the Guy Benjamin School is old.
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