To cheers from a throng of teachers sitting in the audience Wednesday, the V.I. Legislature voted to repeal legislation starting next school year two weeks earlier. In 2012 the 29th Legislature passed legislation, sponsored by then-Sen. Neville James, bumping up the school year by two weeks, with the goal of allowing students to complete the school semester before the Christmas holiday.
The law says the school year will start by the second Tuesday after the second Monday in August and end no later than the first Friday in June, so long as the calendar includes at least 1,080 hours of instruction and the first semester ends by Dec. 23. A later amendment delayed implementation until this coming, 2014-15 school year.
Gov. Jon deJongh Jr. vetoed the measure in 2012, saying it was an "unfunded mandate" that would cost at least $3.6 million more in teacher salaries to implement, and the Senate voted to override the veto. (See Related Links below)
The territory’s two teacher unions vehemently opposed the action and held several protests at the Legislature in both districts, saying they are concerned they will not be paid for coming in two weeks earlier, as there is a budget crisis.
In March, deJongh called a special session of the Legislature for the purpose of repealing the calendar change, saying it is an unfunded mandate that obligates the government to spend millions of dollars it does not have at a time when the government is also facing a completely unresolved $40 million budget deficit. The Senate voted not to repeal the measure at the time, with some senators saying they would look for ways to fund the calendar change. Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone said after the vote, at the close of the session, that other legislation to address the problem would instead be considered in committee and at session, but that did not happen (see Related Links below).
Voting to repeal the law were Malone, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Donald Cole, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Myron Jackson, Clarence Payne, Tregenza Roach and Janette Millin Young. Sen. Kenneth Gittens voted no. Sens. Judi Buckley, Diane Capehart, Clifford Graham, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Sammuel Sanes abstained.
Gittens said he voted no because he supported alternative legislation, which the Senate did not act on, to delay the calendar change. Gittens said he had planned to offer an amendment to require the Education Commissioner to give regular status updates on the calendar, to help press the department to begin implementing it.