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Senators Consider Fate of Territory's "Community College"

V.I. senators said Tuesday they wanted to take their time when looking into plans UVI officials have for fiscal year 2011. That’s because it’s not just a school, according to senators, it’s a reflection of the community.
UVI representatives, led by president David Hall, appeared before the Committee on Appropriations and Budget to discuss next year’s financial outlook.
Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly said she wished senators could dedicate a whole day to meeting with university heads – just like they do with the Department of Health and the Department of Education. Sen. Wayne James called it a community college – because it serves to meet the needs of the community.
“You are first and foremost responsible for providing educational opportunities for people who cannot get them elsewhere,” he said.
The university is requesting an appropriation of $33.5 million from the V.I. government. Hall said most of that money – about $29 million – will go toward the day-to-day upkeep of the institution: things like salaries, books, laboratories and equipment.
They are also requesting about $3.6 million in debt service requirements – the money necessary to pay interest on outstanding bonds. They hope the funds will allow the school to secure an additional $5 million of capital to assist with the construction of a new residence hall on the St. Thomas campus.
Sen. Louis Patrick Hill told Hall that when former UVI president Orville Kean appeared in the Senate to receive the V.I. Medal of Honor earlier this month, he told lawmakers that the university is moving away from the people it is supposed to be serving.
Hill said he has also been receiving reports that the university is favoring professors who are not local over native Virgin Islanders – allowing them to become tenured before local professors are.
Hall said that that was simply not true. He said many of the programs the university is pursuing – including a new environmentally-friendly green initiative and plans to work closely with local school children – came directly from the community.
He said that he has not heard of any instances where local professors are being discriminated against.
“I want this to be a vibrant university that speaks to the needs of this culture and that lifts the territory forward,” he said.
Lawmakers also had a chance to hear from David Zumwalt, executive director of the UVI Research and Technology Park. Zumwalt said RT Park is slowly making strides as it works to unite UVI and the entire territory with top technology businesses.
Zumwalt said that they anticipate about $1 million in revenue in 2011 and hope to have enough tenants in the park to make it financially self-sufficient.
Senators also heard from Aubrey Lee, executive director of the V.I. Labor Management Committee. His organization is charged with making sure the link between government agencies and the people they employ stays strong by teaching and using conflict-resolution strategies.
He was flanked by two representatives from the Law Enforcement Supervisor Union Local 118 – Lt. Joseph Gumbs and Robert Matthews. The men told senators that Lee offers a hugely beneficial service to their organizations by helping them resolve conflicts before they move into arbitration. Matthews said arbitration can be costly, and Lee offers training and advice to governmental entities and labor parties to help them manage tricky situations.
Without Lee’s guidance, Matthews said, “I would have been out of this game a long time ago.”
The V.I. Labor Management Committee is requesting a budget of $185,000. Lee said one of the department’s most important expenditures was rent on their Nisky Center office. That’s because the conference room is often used to resolve whatever conflicts can pop up. It’s also used to conduct training.
Finally, senators heard from Tom Bolt, chair of the V.I. Uniform Law Commission. The group is charged with ensuring that V.I. laws are consistent with those in the rest of the United States and its territories.
Sen. Sammuel Sanes said that although Bolt’s group has one of the smallest budgets, it’s one of the most important organizations.
In total, the commission is requesting an appropriation of $40,000. Most of the funds will go toward the maintenance of the nationwide body of the Uniform Law Commission. Bolt will also need money so that he and the two other members of his group can travel to the commission’s yearly meeting where they oversee nationwide law.
Sens. Craig Barshinger, Louis Patrick Hill, Wayne A.G. James, Terrence “Positive” Nelson, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Sammuel Sanes and Patrick Simeon Sprauve attended Tuesday’s hearings.

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