ST. CROIX–The Committee on
Finance chaired by Senator Kurt A. Vialet received testimony in the morning
session of a budget hearing on Thursday in the UVI Great Hall, St. Croix
regarding Fiscal Year 2020 Budget for the VI Department of Education (VIDE); VI
Board of Education (VIBE); and the Career and Technical Education Board (CTEB).
In her testimony, Racquel
Berry-Benjamin, Commissioner, VIDE said $179,789,546 has been recommended for
FY 2020 from the General Fund. This includes $103,398,438 for Personnel
Services; $45,325,527 for Fringe Benefits; $4,075,900 for Supplies; $20,953,305
for Other Services and Charges; $5,895,376 for Utilities; and $150,000 for
This appropriation represents,
she added, a net increase of $7,464,543 more than total funds received under
the General Fund for FY 2019. This
increase is attributed to additional funding under the Other Services category
for repairs and maintenance, professional services, security services, training
and travel costs.
According to the Commissioner,
the increase also consists of $2,337,5000 earmarked for specific programs and
grants that are normally funded under the miscellaneous section of the budget
In respect to federal funds, she
pointed out that, for FY 2020, VIDE anticipates receiving federal grant awards
of approximately $30,842,938. These grants are awarded by the United States’
Department of Education (USDE) and Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, the
department is currently managing another $39,560,627 in federal grants through
the USDE for FY 2016-2018.
According to her, all programs
have developed detailed and aggressive spending and action plans in order to
obligate $13,316,258 in FY 2016-2017 grant funds set to expire on September 30,
In a presentation to the
Committee, Dionne Wells-Hedrington Ed.D., Chief Operation Officer said, the
VIDE’s physical plant is comprised of 45 schools and administrative support facilities
within both districts. This would require approximately $20 million per year to
maintain, as determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to her, the average age
of VIDE buildings is nearly 50 years old, with many have been built 70 years
ago, and one building in use that was built in the 1800s. She pointed out that
the schools were in continuous state of deuteriation, crumbling under the
weight of $70, million of deferred maintenance before Hurricanes Irma and
Maria. To date, a total of approximately $116,509,712, in FEMA funds has been
obligated for emergency and temporary repair work.
According to other testimony, a
total allocation of approximately $4,722,027.59 are funded through the
Consolidated Grant under the Rural and Low-Income School Program (RLIS). The
funds include: $279,976.15 for Administration and Technical Support;
$1,245,783.31-Alternative Education; $324,044.67-Educator Quality and
Professional Development; and $143,897.53-English Langue Leaners.
In addition to the above, there
were also: $295,727.33 for Parent and Community Engagement; $387,196.16-Safe
and Healthy Schools; $485,967.98-Technology Integration for Students Success;
and $1,559,434.42-Well Rounded Students. It was pointed out that the balance of
the STT/STJ District funds are allocated to non-public schools for their
supplemented programs in the amount of $1,743,855.77.
Commissioner Berry-Benjamin said,
for VIDE to address emergencies and other urgent matters, they respectfully
request a lump sum appropriation for FY 2020.
Arah Lockhart, Chairperson
of the VIBE said their FY 2020 Budget operational request is $1,760,721. There
is also a request for $1,305,966 in the Miscellaneous section of the General
Fund for scholarships and special grants. Accordingly, the total FY 2020 lump
sum request is $3,066,687 which will cover Personnel Services at $813,797;
Capital Outlays $50,000; Fringe Benefits $343,418; Supplies $42,394; Other
Services and Charges $466,112; and Special Legislative Grants $1,305,966.
According to Lockhart, in
FY 2018, the VIBE collected approximately $522,234 in loan repayment and in FY
2019 to date, they have collected approximately $424,986 as of July 16, 2019.
The Committee was informed that VIBE is actively seeking assistance in ensuring
that non-payment of the financial indebtedness can be reported to credit
bureaus. Their available funding for scholarships, grants, and awards comes
from a Special Legislative Awards of $753,150 and Loan/Grants Award of
Lockhart told Committee
members that for FY 2019, they have certified 113 professionals in the St.
Thomas/St. John districts and 110 professionals in the St. Croix district.
Ronnie Jones, Board Chair
of CTEB said their formal request for FY 2020 is $509,250. In his testimony, he focused on a list of goals
that were submitted to the legislature and a previous hearing. He added that
the Board was hoping that additional board appointees were available to carry
out the work required to achieve many of the goals presented.
According to Jones, the Board
supported CTE programs by assisting with the procurement of books and
materials. Explore potential new career programs that could augment the current
CTE program offerings. Search avenues to support CTE programs financially. And,
provide CTE students with opportunities to explore new and emerging careers in
technology as well as having real life exposure to their chosen field.
The calling for a lump sum
budget, by the various educational entities for FY 2020, Committee Chairman, Sen.
Vialet said he would not adhere to that factor, instead the committee will move
to line-item their budget based upon specific needs such as maintenance and
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