Author: Africah Harrigan


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ST.THOMAS- Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, hosted “Reflections” a memorial program dedicated to honoring former and late Senate President of the 20th Legislature Bingley G. Richardson, Sr. on Thursday at the Capitol building.


“There is an African Proverb that says when an old man dies, a library burns to the ground,” said Sen. Jackson. “Richardson was a civil rights activist, policymaker, businessman, griot, mariner, pan-Africanist, father and a family man. Senator Richardson epitomized the best you can ask of a native son. He was a fearless leader who loved people dearly. He dedicated his life to the upliftment of his race.”


Glen “Kwabena” Davis also shared reflections.


“When Richardson saw that the carnival was moving away from Virgin Islands culture and imitating the carnival in Trinidad, he inspired the troupes to have themes that represent the Territory,” said Davis. He continued, “Bingley instituted that carnival in the Virgin Islands showcase and highlight our culture, our people and our daily experiences because we have a lot to offer.”


Separately, Marcella Jennings said, “Bingley was best known as a sober and serious man. His principles and character was inspired by the late Marcus Garvey. I wanted to note that Bingley’s leadership was fair and he was a good man.”


Additional aspects of the memorial program include Jason Meade the Conch Shell Blower, the invocation and benediction was led by Pastor Vickki Parris, The New Beginning Christian Fellowship sang the National Anthem, Gylchris Sprauve sang the Virgin Islands March, Detra Davis sang the Black National Anthem.  There were several musical selections that was presented by Lorna Freeman and remarks were given by senators.


Sen. Brian Smith said, “Bingley Richardson made a big impact on all of us. He was a different man who carried himself with pride and distinction. He walked and talked differently. When Bingley spoke, everyone listened.”


“I did not have a personal relationship with Bingley Richardson. However, I thank him for impacting my life in two ways,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. “One, Bingley raised community awareness and African consciousness to who we are as a people. Secondly, his outstanding commitment and courage to protect the natural resources of the Virgin Islands.”


Senators who were present are Myron Jackson, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach and Janette Millin Young.


Richardson will Lie in State for public viewing on Friday, June 9, 2017 at the Capitol Building in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall from 4:00-7:00pm. The funeral service will be on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. at the Christchurch Methodist Church Market Square. Interment will be at Western Cemetery No. 3.


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ST. THOMAS- Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, approved a nomination, a resolution, several coastal management permits and bills on Wednesday during Legislative Session at the Capitol Building.


Most lawmakers approved nominee Lloyd Bough, Jr. for Commissioner of the Department of Property and Procurement, and Bill No 32-0052, a resolution to honor and commend Allen Haynes for his contributions to the community as a police officer and healer.


Sen. Jackson stated he hoped Bough would continue to advocate for the care of government properties, residences and materials. He also supported the resolution.


“For thousands of years as a people we depended on tradition-bearers for healing,” said Sen. Jackson. “In terms of the centennial, for many years we had midwives. They are now restricted to assisting with the birth process in the hospitals. As a community, we once cared for our dead. Now we are restricted to two hours with them in the funeral homes. Tradition- bearers were eventually forced to discontinue their practices.”


Sen. Brian Smith had similar sentiments.


“For too long we have overlooked people in our community who served for several years, received an education and worked in the community. Mr. Bough is the epitome of leadership,” Sen. Smith said. “Talent is not something to be compared to a physician or chiropractor. Mr. Haynes dedicated his service throughout his career and daily activities. Somebody has to stand up for local talent.”


Although many of the senators expressed support for Bough, some were uncomfortable with voting in favor for Haynes.


“I am wary of sending this resolution forward,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. “I would be endorsing a method of medical treatment that I would never do.”


Sen. Janette Millin Young also expressed concern.


“I just wish that this resolution wasn’t weighing heavily on the medical aspect,” she said. “This may serve as an endorsement.”


Senators also considered and voted favorably for all the Coastal Zone Management Permits.


“All of the measures have to do with marine economic development and water safety. They are for continued use which means they are currently in use and the bills are an extension that allow the public to use what is already in place,” Sen. Jean Forde said. “As far as the installation of the moorings are concerned, they are put in place to ensure water safety. Overall, these measures are the beginning of a new industry in the Virgin Islands.”


The following Coastal Zone Permits were approved:


Bill No. 32-0114 – Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-3-16 (W) issued to RC Hotels (Virgin Islands) Inc. for the continued use and occupancy of an existing 8’ diameter x 130’ long seawater intake line to the RO Plant seaward of Parcel Nos 1&3 Estate Nazareth, and the installation of 6 swim buoys four moorings at Great Bay, St. Thomas Virgin Islands 3


Bill No. 32-0116 – An Act ratifying Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-05-15W issued to Reef Ecology Foundation for continued use and occupancy of permanent moorings for day use only at frequently used dive site locations in the territorial waters surrounding the islands of St. Thomas and St. John, Virgin Islands


Bill No. 32-0115 – An Act ratifying Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-10-16W issued to the Anchorage Condominium Association for the continued use and occupancy of a 120 foot, three-inch seawater intake line which services its reverse osmosis plant and the continued use and occupancy of the submerged lands for six swimming buoys


Bill No. 32-0118 – An Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-4-16(W) issued to St. Thomas Yacht Club Owner, Inc. for the continued use and occupancy of a 110’-9” by 7’-8” dock with a 39’-6” by 8’- 6” “T” and a 335sq. ft. concrete bulkhead with a length of 58 linear feet, 3,500 sq. ft. of submerged land surrounding the dock, and one wooden pile located seaward of Parcel Nos. 8-1-1 and 8-58 Estate Nazareth, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands


Bill No. 32-0113 -. An act ratifying Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-25-16W issued to Sanctuary Holding, LLC for the installation of eight mooring to be completed in two phases No. 23 Estate Frenchman’s Bay, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands


Bill No. 32-0117 – An Act ratifying Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-33-16W issued to True Crew VI, LLC to install a private mooring and operate a “food boat” at Christmas cove area of Jersey Bay St. Thomas.


“In terms of economic development in the Virgin Islands the marine industry is a gold mine that will open many doors for businesses and it will encourage job growth in the community,” Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said.


The following bills were approved:


Bill No. 32-0002- An Act to authorize the Virgin Islands Government to purchase Estate Catherineberg from WICO by offsetting payments owed in lieu of taxes, as mandated by Act No. 5826, as amended and for other related purposes


Bill No. 32-0020 -An Act amending 3 V.I.C. Section §§ 6, 7, 631 and 640 relating to the composition of the Government Employees Services Commission and re-designating the GESC as the Government Employees and Retirees Health Insurance Board of Trustees and for other related purposes


Bill No. 32-0021- An Act amending Virgin Islands Code, Title 1, Section 253, Title 3 Sections 256, 558, 562 to replace the Government Employees Services Commission with the Public Employees Relations Board; Section 643 to replace the GESC with the Division of Personnel” Title 17 Section 190 to replace the chairman of the Government Employees Services Commission with the Commissioner of Education; and repealing Title 3 Subchapter II and Title 23 Section 11 of the Virgin Islands Code


Bill No. 32-0038 – An Act amending Title 3, Chapter 11, Section 26b; Title 20, Section 436 Title 30, Section 15a; and Title 17, Section 475 providing for the acceptance of a Real ID as a valid form of identification for various senior citizen’s discounts 4


Bill No. 32-0039 – An Act amending Virgin Islands Code, Title 8, Chapter 1 Section 9, Subsection (a) to change the amount of Tavernkeeper Liquor Licenses (A) that can be in effect within the historic districts of the Virgin Islands


Bill No. 32-0040 – An act amending Title 1 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 11 commemorating the week of June 26th to July 3rd as Virgin Islands Freedom Week


Bill No. 32-0087- An Act to authorize the Government of the Virgin Islands, through the Department of Property and Procurement to purchase certain real property on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands for the completion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium Project on the Island of St. Croix


Bill No. 32-0088 – An Act to provide for the reprogramming of funds appropriated from the Community Facilities Trust Account authorized under Act No 7012 for certain capital projects through the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation


Bill No. 32-0090- An Act amending Act 7897 to increase the Department of Human Services appropriation in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017; authorizing the Public Finance Authority to acquire and finance the acquisition of a residential skilled nursing home on the island of St. Thomas


Bill No. 32-0091- An Act amending Act No. 7911section 1increasing the amount of the appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the General Fund; providing a contribution from the Tourism Advertising Fund to the General Fund in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2017


Bill No. 32-0094- An Act reprogramming $545,634.52 from any available funds in the Gross Receipt Tax Bond proceeds. Matching fund Bond or the Community Facilities Trust Account to fund emergency repairs and replacements at the Schneider Center


All measures approved by this body will be forwarded to the governor for further consideration.






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ST. THOMAS – Members of the 32nd Legislature hosted a Senior Citizens Mock Session Capitol Building on Tuesday, to vote and approve Bill No. 32-0000 as it relates to the Senior Citizens Bill of Rights.


“It is a tremendous honor to deal with legislation that will improve the life of seniors in the Territory,” said Senate President Myron Jackson. “According to the U.S. Census 2010 there are approximately 14,000 seniors residing in the Territory. This theme encourages seniors to address top priorities that are affecting them in the Territory,” he added.


Maurice Sebastian, who was representing Sen. Jackson, said, “This is an excellent idea to establish a Senior Citizens Bill of Rights. What will happen if we lose funding? We need to educate the younger generation on the importance of our gems of elders in the community. The message has to get across to the youths so that they can play their role in taking care of the elderly.”


Similarly, Charlita Schuster who was representing Sen. Positive Nelson said, “We need to maintain a strategy that will encourage the younger generation to care for the elderly. This is important especially if federal funding is cut.”


Separately, Maria Santiago Feliciano who was representing Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen said, “There are two crucial issues that are not on the bill. They are the Pharmaceutical Assistant Program and the Senior Citizens ID Card. I am doing a special amendment to add this to the bill.”

“One thing that must be made clear, the Real ID does not replace the Senior Citizens ID Card,” said Alphonse Stalliard, who was representing Sen. Neville James. He continued, “The funds that the Virgin Islands has must be used for maximum efficiency. Whether the funds are federal or local. We also need to address providing appropriate medical services for those who suffer with a mental health condition.”


Angelita Jemmings who was representing Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “This bill is dependent upon President Donald Trump. To my knowledge programs are funded 80/20. If President Trump decided to cut funding for the senior citizen programs, where is the 80% going to come from? If that happens, how will the senior citizen program thrive?”


“We must get creative and think outside of the box,” said Lydia Hendricks, who was representing Sen. Marvin Blyden. She continued, “For example, we need to consider having a satellite kitchen in which meals can be prepared and delivered to all seniors. We must stop harping on funds that could be potentially cut and focus on the monies that we have and how we can utilize it more efficiently.”


Ultimately, lawmakers voted unanimously Bill No. 32-0000 as amended. It will be forwarded to the Governor for further consideration.


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ST. THOMAS – Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Sen. Jean Forde presented the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. St. Thomas Alumnae Chapter “Forum on Human Trafficking,” on Friday at the Capitol Building.

“Human trafficking as we know is real and it is taking place in plain sight. Today, we will explore the ramifications and solutions to address Human trafficking,” said Sen. Forde.

Alaine Lockhart-Mollah, Vice President of V.I. Social Action Coordinator said, “Slavery is an ancient trade that has been abolished throughout the world. Modern day slavery such as human trafficking, is an act in which human beings has lost their freedom.” She continued, “Human beings are being trafficked for as low as $90.00 per person. This can happen in a home in which the parents are trafficking their child. Human trafficking happens in plain sight.”

Columbia, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Antigua, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Florida are some of the places in which victims has been trafficked from and transported to a new location; according to the testimony of Keisha Culpepper-Smith, President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

“How severe is the problem with human smuggling that leads to human trafficking?” asked Sen. Forde. Eugene Thomas, Resident Charge for Homeland Security on St. Croix said, “There are cases that starts out as human smuggling then eventually leads to human trafficking.” Sen Forde inquired, “What are the statistics of these types of cases?” Thomas stated that most of the cases are not reported. Therefore, it is hard to track cases in which individuals are enslaved.

Sen. Tregenza Roach asked, “Does the Victim Protection Act of 2000, have dual persecution for victims who were first smuggled and then later trafficked?” Christian Fisanick, Esq. Assistant U.S. Attorney said, “There are statues that allows for persecution per crime against criminals.”

Sen. Brian Smith said, “We have a tremendous problem on our hands with human trafficking. The lack of identification of what’s really happening to a victim can cause someone to overlook the situation.” He asked, “How many cases did you persecute in the Virgin Islands?” In response, Attorney Fisanick said, “There has been a total of two cases persecuted locally and they were domestic related.” Vivianne St. Juste, Executive Director of the Family Resource Center added, “It’s hard to put a number when there are victims who are unable to identify exactly what was happening to them. This occurs when victims are unaware of these types of crimes.”

Sen. Dwayne DeGraff asked, “What were some of the factors that helped the Office of the U.S. Attorney get a conviction on the human trafficking cases?” Attorney Fisanick stated that in one of the cases the mother had a written contract to prostitute her daughter.

Sen. Forde stated that the next step is for lawmakers to collaborate with the various agencies to strengthen legislation against human trafficking in the Territory.                                                                                                                                 ###



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St. Thomas- Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, hosted a program in celebration of African Liberation Day with the theme “Raising the Consciousness of African Youth,” on the grounds of the Legislature on St. Thomas and St. Croix, on Thursday.


“The 2017 African Liberation Day Ceremony engages our youths as well as the elders. The youths in our community are our future. If you do not know your history, then your history will be lost. As African people, let us celebrate our contributions to the world.

We observe this day as required by law for this specification,” said Sen. Jackson.


Bill No. 18-0147 proclaims that the third week in May is recognized as the Virgin Islands African Liberation Week. This is in homage of Africans brought to the Virgin Islands by force and taken away from their homeland, family and culture.


The event began with the conch shell blowers and libation. This was followed by performances by the Queens of the Earth and Wachanga Drummers. Community culture bearers shared words of wisdom and encouragement but added that the community must have an urgency to continue the work of those that came before us. Remarks were also given by Nyabinghi Priest Tafari Tzakki and lawmakers.


“I understand the importance of these types of programs. We are Virgin Islanders,” said Sen. Millin Young. “When we look back at our history and where we came from. Our ancestors are a part of us. Each aspect of us must be respected. I see a lot of pride in our young people and I am proud to be here with you today.”


Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said, “The question I asked myself was how do we integrate the younger generation into carrying this forward? It’s inspiring to see the younger generation playing an active role in maintaining and sharing our history on African Liberation Day.”


Additional aspects of the program included musical selections from Calypsonian Kirabo Stephens, Soloist Gylchris Sprauve, Violinist Isis Collier, and the Legends Choir. Senator Tregenza Roach and Lukata Samuel read poems. There were dance performances by Christopher Williams, Seymour Davis and the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Creative Dancers. The traditional story was told by Master Storyteller Yohance Henley.


Senators in attendance included Myron Jackson, Janette Millin Young, Marvin A. Blyden, Jean, Positive T.A. Nelson, Dwayne DeGraff and Tregenza A. Roach.




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ST. THOMAS – Members of the Committee on Finance, chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to consider several measures that were proposed by Sen. Myron Jackson at the request of Governor Kenneth Mapp, including Bill No. 32-0089 as it relates to the reprogramming of a portion of the proceeds from the Matching Funds to the V.I. Department of Education (VIDE) to finance critical maintenance needs.


“VIDE is requesting the re-appropriation for the remaining Bond Funding from previously completed Capital Improvement Projects in the sum of $732,136,000,” said Commissioner of Education Sharon McCollum.


The projects include renovations of an existing unoccupied building for the consolidation of the Jane E. Tuitt Elementary School and Dober Elementary School which totals $643,000, establishing a Performing Arts Center and renovating the St. Thomas Headquarters restrooms and employee lounge which totals $89,136, added Commissioner McCollum.


Sen. Sammuel Sanes said, “I noticed that there are no projects or monies that will be re-appropriated to schools on St. Croix.” He asked, “Is there a Plan B?” Commissioner McCollum said, “There is a Plan B. We have over $2 million to repair the track at Central High School. There is also a considerable amount of work to be done at the Educational Complex. The remainder of the funds will be used towards additional projects on St. Croix.”


Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “Are renovating the restrooms at the St. Thomas Headquarters a priority?” Commissioner McCollum said, “It is one of many priorities that DOE is facing. We will develop a proposal to tackle renovations and repairs for the St. Croix School District.”


“Although, the Performing Arts Center and the restroom upgrades to the St. Thomas Headquarters are important, there needs to be additional revenues to establish a Trade Zone,” said Sen. Marvin Blyden. “It is place where students will be able to learn a trade and become certified upon graduating from High School. The Trade Zone will keep youngsters out of trouble while focusing on developing a trade.”


Separately, lawmakers also considered Bill No. 32-0087. The measure seeks to authorize the Department of Property and Procurement to purchase certain real property on behalf of the people the completion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium on the Island of St. Croix.


Act 7663 authorized $17.5 million, Act 7778 authorized $1,185,413 and Act 7903 appropriated $3,696,750 to be used towards financing various aspects of the costs associated with the Paul E. Joseph Stadium; according to information on the Post Audit Report.


Sen. Vialet asked, “Can you give me a precise balance of the funds remaining from Act 7778, Act 7903 and Act 7663?” Gustav James, Commissioner of Public Works stated that he does not have that information with him today.


“What is the estimated cost to complete the Paul E. Joseph Stadium?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner James stated that $17 million is needed to complete the projects associated everything that was shown on the map that was presented during the meeting.


“Thus far, out of the $17 million, how much was expended?” inquired Sen. Vialet. Commissioner James stated that only $3 million was spent. Sen. Vialet asked, “Are the authorized and appropriated funds enough to complete the Paul E. Joseph Stadium?” Commissioner James said, “No, the monies can only complete different phases of the project but it is not enough to finish it entirely.”


“We have to seriously consider how monies are being spent in the government. How can we pass a bill without all the financial information present? Even if the measure is approved, the Paul E Joseph Stadium will still not be completed,” said Sen. Vialet.”


Ultimately, policymakers held in committee the following: Bill No. 32-0087, Bill No. 32-0089, Bill No. 32-0090, Bills No. 32-0091, Bill No. 32-0094.


However, lawmakers voted favorably for Bill No. 32-0088 – An Act to provide for the reprogramming of funds appropriated from the Community Facilities Trust Account authorized under Act No. 7012 for certain capital projects through the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation. It will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.






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ST. THOMAS—Senate President Myron Jackson encouraged graduates to give back to the Virgin Islands, during his remarks as a guest speaker at the 53rd Annual Commencement Ceremony at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI), on Friday.

“The Virgin Islands is at a crossroads as we observe this Centennial Year. As you make your way as U.S. graduates into the workforce inside and outside of the territory, let us always be committed to our homeland and region. It is through this intellectual capacity that we are able to meet our challenges,” said Senate President Jackson.

Sen. Jackson also acknowledged his former High School Principal Ruth Thomas for her dedication to improving the Education System in the Territory.

Today, we also honor one of our longtime educators, Ms. Ruth Thomas, who will be bestowed with a well-deserving acknowledgment of a woman who has committed her entire life to the advancement of education, and who daily provides commentary on the social, cultural, and economic state of affairs of the Territory. She has nurtured and developed hundreds of our youth.”


Lastly, the senator shared his advice with the UVI graduates who are in the Class of 2017.


“You live in a time capsule where so many windows of opportunities and innovative ideas are possible. It is important that you remember this campus and these islands, and cultivate your intellectual capacity to take your rightful place in this universe,” said Sen. Jackson.


Additional remarks were presented by David Hall, S.J.D. President, Henry Smock, Esq., Governor Kenneth Mapp, Monel Marcellin (Class of 2017) and Keynote Speaker Iyanla Vanzant.



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ST.THOMAS – Members of the 32nd Legislature, led by Senate President Myron Jackson, at the request of Governor Kenneth Mapp, convened in Special Session on Wednesday, and voted unanimously to send several measures to committee for further vetting, including Bill No. 32-0091 as it relates to reprogramming $3 million from available funding to address emergency sewage line problems at the Juan F. Luis Hospital.

Funding for the initiative would have come from increasing an appropriation from the Internal Revenue Matching Fund to the General Fund, a contribution from the Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund, and reprogramming $3 million from any available fund in the Gross Receipt Tax Bonds or Community Facilities Trust Account.

Rising out of Legislative Session and into the Committee of the Whole, senators received testimony from Richard Evangelista, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center (JFL).

“The $3 million appropriation will be utilized for JFL for emergency repairs and replacement of its sewer infrastructure,” said Evangelista. He stated that additional financial challenges include the immediate measures to sustain operations totaling $78,940, in costs associated with the relocation of the Emergency Department operations totaling $50,410 and the availability of mid-level clinical staff to expedite service in the triage area totaling $48,000.

Sen. Novelle Francis inquired, “How did you come up with the necessity of $3 million for the sewer infrastructure?” Tim Lessing, Chief Financial Officer at JFL, stated that as of Fall 2016, a portion of the drainage system collapsed and was down for six months. This estimate is based on the square footage of all the areas in which the system needs to be replaced.

“In terms of moving forward, what plans do you have to prevent this from reoccurring?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Evangelista said, “We will continue to assess the entire sewage system and devise an architectural design to improve the infrastructure. Currently, relocating the existing system is a temporary measure.”

Regarding the reprogramming of funding for the twenty-three capital projects, President Jackson asked, “Why were some capital projects selected to be completed with the leftover funds while others were not?” In response, Valdamier Collens, Executive Director of the V.I. Public Finance Authority said, “While some projects were not started, most of the capital projects are left over funds from the completed projects. The remainder funds are to be utilized to complete critical projects such as the JFL, Schneider Regional Medical Center and other agencies.”

Separately, Sen. Kurt Vialet requested the financial breakdown of the $18.2 million that was generated from the excise taxes earned and collected on Virgin Islands rum sold within the U.S. market. In response, Collens said, “The breakdown is as follows from Cruzan Rum, the Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) will receive $3.16 million and the rum company will receive $2.69 million. From Diageo, GVI will receive $6.29 million and the rum company will receive $5.67 million and the Community Facilities Trust Fund will receive $3,700.”

Other proposed legislation sent by Governor Mapp on the agenda included establishment of a single horse racing commission anti-doping legislation; acquiring land in Estate La Grange for completion of the Paul E. Joseph Stadium complex; repairs at sporting facilities at Kirwan Terrace, Joseph Aubain, and Emile Griffith ballparks; acquisition of a residential nursing facility on St. Thomas; funding for A/C for Schneider Hospital; and improvements to some of the territory’s public schools cafeterias, bathrooms, administrative offices, and other maintenance needs.

Eventually, lawmakers rose out of the Committee of the Whole and went back into Special Session, in which they voted to send the following to committee: Bill No. 32-0091, Bill No. 32-0094, Bill No. 32-0090, Bill No. 32-0089, Bill No. 32-0088, Bill No. 32-0088, Bill No. 32-0087, Bill No. 32-0092 and Bill No. 32-0093.



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ST. THOMAS- Members of the Committee on Education, Youth and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Thursday, to receive testimony on the current status of the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE).

VIDOE is facing insurmountable fiscal, administrative and operational challenges,” said Commissioner of Education Sharon McCollum.

Some of the challenges includes continuing deterioration of the physical conditions of the public schools, the need for an additional $70,000-$90,000 to complete Capital Improvement Projects in regards to deferred maintenance projects, a reduction of 7,128 meals served in the School Breakfast Program and a total of 98 teacher vacancies in core areas such as Elementary Education, Science and Foreign Language, according to Commissioner McCollum.

“The issues are real. The leaks are real. The issue of mold is real. The lack of equipment in the classrooms are real. The shortage of teachers is real,” said Sen. Forde.

Sen. Novelle Francis asked, “Can you share some of the challenges of the budget cuts as it pertains to the Impact Statement that VIDOE submitted to the Office of Management and Budget?” Muriel Fenton, Director of Financial Reporting and Program Quality Assurance said, “The Impact Statement mainly refers to maintenance needs as well as ongoing contracts such as security and transportation.” Commissioner McCollum added that $800,000 is set aside for ongoing contracts which leaves very little funds for maintenance projects. “We simply need more money,” said Commissioner McCollum.

Sen. Neville James said, “The lack of maintenance in the public schools impacts everything because teachers have to work in the classroom. There are schools in the territory that are almost 50 years old that requires an upgraded infrastructure.” Sen. James continued, “My focus really is to get a better financial foundation so that improvements can be made in the Department of Education.”

Separately, Sen. Forde asked, “What were the findings of the audit?” In response, Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent of the St. Croix District said, “We have a chief financial officer who oversees the finances of the schools. Overall, principals are doing well with following the guidelines in terms of spending.” Dionne Wells-Hendrington, Insular Superintendent of the St. Thomas-St. John District stated that they had a similar report. “Are the reports of the audit made public?” asked Sen. Forde. Commissioner McCollum stated that all of the reports are public and can be distributed upon request.

Despite VIDOE funding deficiencies, academically, students are showing signs of improvement in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

Sen. Brian Smith asked, “How does the student’s 2016 Smarter Balanced Assessments differ from 2015?” “In ELA, the percent of students that met or exceeded standards as of Spring 2016 was 20%, which is an increase of three percentage points from the 2015 for the Smarter Balanced Assessments,” said Alexandria Baltimore-Hookfin, Director of State Assessment. She added that the percentage of students who fell in the lowest performance category in Math has decreased as well.

“Are we meeting requirements in terms of having sufficient ELA teachers in the classrooms?” asked Sen. Smith. In response, Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent of the St. Croix said currently there are a shortage of teachers. However, VIDOE has purchased online learning resources to accommodate students with ELA.”

Similarly, Sen. Tregenza Roach asked, “What is the status of the nursing vacancies?” Commissioner McCollum said, “We are being creative by utilizing retired nurses who are happy to come on board.”