Senators, Administrators Would Like Schools to Start in Mid-August

Teacher representatives Rosa Soto-Thomas, left, and Carol Callwood express concern over this latest attempt to change the school calendar. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)
Teacher representatives Rosa Soto-Thomas, left, and Carol Callwood express concern over this latest attempt to change the school calendar. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, USVI Legislature)

Virgin Islands school administrators and legislators want schools to start earlier in the fall and end earlier in the spring. The effort to do so, however, has failed in recent years. The problem is how to compensate teachers in the year of the change.

In the year the school calendar is switched, teachers would be required to start two weeks earlier in the fall of a calendar year in which they had already worked two weeks late of the previous school year.

But Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw has not given up. She recently introduced an act amending the V.I. Code to allow this shift in the academic school year.

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The measure was debated Monday at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development.

Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory, chairwoman of the committee, acknowledged the issue has been around since 2012, when the Senate passed a bill to change the calendar and overrode the governor when he vetoed the measure. However, the change was never implemented. Teacher unions protested it, fearing teachers would not be paid for the two extra weeks. The measure was repealed in 2014.

Frett-Gregory said there were ways to resolve the compensation problem. She then read from a V.I. Source article from 2014, in which she was quoted setting forth those potential solutions.

“To start 10 days earlier, the school system has to find 10 days in the year to give teachers later in the year, or else pay them for more time worked,” she read from the 2014 article. “To make up most of those days, Frett-Gregory proposed extending the Christmas break so classes return Jan. 14 instead of Jan. 7, then getting rid of two and a half days of break during Carnival on St. Thomas. The system used to hold classes for half a week and then close for half a week, but some time back it changed due to low attendance for those two and a half days,” Frett-Gregory said.

Carol Callwood, president of St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, Local 1825, said it’s a question of fair compensation.

“The biggest concern I have as the president of Local 1825, and President Rosa Soto-Thomas of Local 1826 also has the same concern, is that our membership be properly compensated for the additional days that they will be required to work during the first year of implementation.”

Soto-Thomas expressed caution in passing the bill at this time. She concluded her testimony saying, “I would be remiss if I fail to question why, given the multitude of financial challenges that are before the department and the territory, why is Bill No. 33-0019 being heard at this time? As you are aware, the union is owed retros and the 8 percent which our members are eager to receive.”

She added, “The excise tax case is also causing severe hemorrhaging to our coffers. Our aging and hurricane-ravaged schools are in a state of disrepair. The deplorable working and learning conditions continue to make our members and students sick. Maintenance monies are never enough to complete the temporary repairs of our schools and facilities.”

Senators voted to hold the bill in committee.

Attending this part of the hearing were committee members Sens. Frett-Gregory, Janelle Sarauw, Kurt Vialet, Stedmann Hodge Jr. and Allison DeGazon and non-committee members- Sen. Dwayne DeGraff and Myron Jackson.

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