Opinion: V.I. Board of Education Responds to Leaked Draft Audit

Members of the Board of Education answer senators' questions during Tuesday's hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Arah Lockhart and other members of the Board of Education answer senators’ questions during an April legislative hearing. (V.I. Legislature photo by Barry Leerdam)

The following piece is the Board of Education’s response to a leaked, draft version of a V.I. Inspector General’s audit. The Source does not have this report as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27. Other news outlets reported the draft alleges loose and incomplete financial accounting, large numbers of expenses without documentation and stipends given to board members on hundreds of occasions without documentation that the board had met.

In an effort to improve governance by the Virgin Islands Board of Education … and refocus priorities on advancing student achievement, in or around March 2016 the board requested an independent audit of its financial and administrative operations. This effort began in January 2016 with a majority of members voting to make some leadership changes and demand various financial and personnel records that had not been made available to them. This leadership change resulted in numerous lawsuits against the board and even individual members. It has, however, also resulted in vast improvements in administrative processes brought about through the informal recommendations provided by the Inspector General’s Office early in the investigation.

The board has also adopted new bylaws that include a more stringent code of ethics and a conflict of interest policy. The new leadership also had the opportunity to hire new employees with significant government experience to insure the administrative and financial processes are in line with applicable laws, regulations and orders of the government.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not without frivolous legal challenges. Over 10 lawsuits/appeals were filed against the board and/or several of its members. The board and these members have rightly been vindicated with the dismissal of almost all of these suits and appeals.

While the board agrees that some of the findings of the inspector general’s audit are extrapolated, we strongly oppose some others and venture to say they are either based on inaccurate facts, not based firmly in a reasonable interpretation of the law or based on an insufficient investigation. The board has been given an opportunity to officially respond, and we will do so promptly. In the meantime, it is only fair to mention that most of the actions cited in the audit predated the terms of several board members and staff. The current board, its administration and staff are, however, committed to continuous improvement in leadership and the administration of the board, so the events of the past are not repeated.

The current board still has quite a way to go to right the ship and restore the public trust. We are in the process of drafting new clear legislation and financial guidelines to insure the breaches are a thing of the past. We ask that the public not make judgments based on the draft audit that has been prematurely published and reserve them for the final report that will include the board’s responses.

The public can be sure the board is committed to the territory’s students and is working in collaboration with the Department of Education to support student achievement, social growth and development. The public is welcome to participate in the board’s regularly scheduled meetings.

Warmest regards,
Executive Officers
19th Virgin Islands Board of Education

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