The long dormant V.I. Virtual Information System, or VIVIS, may be reworked, with a new executive council if a bill forwarded out of the Senate Rules Committee is enacted. But funding concerns remain.
The VIVIS system was put in place in 2013 at a cost of almost $5 million. According to the V.I. Department of Education, the system exists but has large gaps in its data.
When the system was first put in place, Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory was commissioner of Education. At a ceremony that year for the launch of the system, Frett-Gregory said the system gives the government the ability to assign children in the territory a unique ID at birth that will follow through their lives. VIVIS, holds information on age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, education and employment for any person being served by the Departments of Education, Labor, Health, Finance, Human Services and Justice, the University of the Virgin Islands and even nongovernmental entities that choose to participate.
“Many times, our children are misunderstood because we don’t have data on their history, and this system does that,” Frett-Gregory said during Thursday’s Rules and Judiciary Committee hearing. She said the system allows educators to review the data of children and determine the best way to support them as students. But in order for this to work, all the entities must come together, Frett-Gregory added.
The bill requires the establishment of an executive council, consisting of the governor, the commissioners of all prior aforementioned departments, the attorney general, University of the Virgin Islands president, chairperson of the Board of Education, chairperson of the legislature’s Committee on Education, director of the Bureau of Information Technology and chief executive officer of the Early Head Start Program.
Neither the bill nor the testimony addressed why a new council is necessary or helpful. Testifiers agreed the system itself is valuable, if it is funded.
Reuben Molloy, deputy commissioner of the Department of Health, said the VIVIS system “will be essential to providing invaluable data on the social determinants of health, critical to the effective planning and implementation of health promotion and prevention programs.”
Molloy said that, within the Department of Health, the Vital Statistics office and Infants and Toddlers Program will provide information to the system.
“The initiative to develop and implement VIVIS served as a welcome catalyst to move to an electronic vital records system as a primary identification information source,” he said.
In written testimony, Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin raised the same concerns about funding that she raised in October, when the bill was first considered in committee.
She said the bill “needs to specifically indicate, in one way or another, that additional funds will be provided … to adequately support” VIVIS with software features, licenses and technical support. Berry-Benjamin did not attend the hearing in person.
The territory has a long history of unfunded legislative mandates that are not carried out due to the lack of funding.
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A table containing the Department of Education’s maintenance and operating expenses for the system was provided within the submitted testimony: a total of $721,000. This amount includes $250,000 in hosting fees, $148,000 in technical support, $123,000 for micro-strategy licenses, $30,000 in public relations and communication, $65,000 in data and ETL lead, $55,000 for a data manager and $50,000 for a report developer.
“When managed properly, VIVIS is a tool that will enable the Virgin Islands to make informed decisions about programs and policies that promote positive outcomes for all citizens,” Berry-Benjamin said. Proper management of VIVIS should begin with a realistic budget and appropriate staffing.”
One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Janelle Sarauw, said she understood the budgetary concerns but still voted in favor of moving the bill forward to the Committee of the Whole, as did Sens. Novelle Francis Jr., Alicia Barnes, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James and Steven Payne Sr. Sen. Myron Jackson was present but did not vote.