Category: Senator Jean A. Forde

PLASTIC BAG BAN EXTENDS TO INCLUDE PLASTIC STRAWS

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ST. THOMAS– The Committee on Government Affairs, Veterans, Energy & Environmental Protection, chaired by Sen. Sammuel Sanes, convened on Wednesday to receive testimony amending the plastic bag ban to include disposable plastic straws and other measures.

Amendment No. 32-740 for Bill No. 32-0220, an Act amending Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 8 sought to extend the ban on plastic bags to include disposable, plastic drinking straws and to allow the sale of reusable drinking straws. Bill sponsor, Sen. Janelle Sarauw, introduced Amendment No. 32-740 to insert a definition for plastic tubular stirrer, prohibit businesses from purchasing and importing plastic disposable straws and stirrers. The measure proposed excluded hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers. “As small as straws may be, they leave a lasting impact on our marine environment. We have already lost 80 percent of our coral reef cover in the Caribbean region,” stated Sen. Sarauw. The measure proposed does not apply to hospitals, nursing homes and medical supply retailers.

“I understand the concerns expressed about imported products with straws attached but excluding those items in this amendment does not address the problem at hand,” said Sen. Tregenza Roach. He commended the sponsors and the amendments brought forth in today’s hearing and recommended that the language of the measure and any amendment should be consistent with its purpose. Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly stated, “This amendment is a step in the right direction and an opportunity for us to change our footprint and reduce the amount of plastic waste generated in our territory.”

Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen previously voted against the bill, citing lack of community input and unclear language for her decision. “The issue regarding our environment is always viable, but it must be done with caution,” she stated. Sen. Marvin Blyden added, “I agree that the Bill needs more work in regard to enforcement within our communities, as plastic bags are still being offered to residents.”

Amendment 32-740 was forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Bill No. 32-0204, an Act amending Title 12 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 16A by redefining “government agency” and by defining “communications provider”, and requiring that a government agency that installs, relocates, or improves conduits within the public rights-of-way, including a government agency that receives federal funding for such work, ensure that the conduit is of sufficient size to accommodate use by multiple communication providers for their use in providing service, or to permit a communications provider to install its own conduit at its option and cost. “This policy is not new, it has been implemented across the nation in an attempt to reduce the costs of deploying utilities and underground construction,” added Sen. O’Reilly. “It also expands broadband access to rural areas in our community.”

The government agency must also place handholes and manholes for fiber access and pulling with respect to such conduit, must provide reasonable notice to communication providers, and must ensure that any requesting communication provider has access to the conduit for a charge not to exceed a cost-based rate. “I don’t understand the need for this bill based on the research conducted, there is some degree of suggestion that this would impact VInGn and I must err on the side of caution,” expressed Sen. Forde. Members present favorably approved and forwarded Bill No. 32-0204 to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary.

Committee members present at Wednesday’s hearing were Chairman Sammuel Sanes, Senators Jean Forde, Marvin Blyden, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach, Alicia “Chucky” Hansen and Janette Millin Young.

 

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LEGISLATIVE HOME NOW ON THE HORIZON FOR THE BIG ISLAND

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ST. CROIX– Senate President Myron D. Jackson and Vice-President Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly announced early today that a new site for the Legislature on St. Croix has been procured.

“We are excited to have a place to call home, our central and senatorial staff have worked in two separate locations far longer than we anticipated,” said Vice-President O’Reilly.

Shortly after Hurricane Maria’s passage, an active search began for a temporary legislative home to meet the needs of the general public.

The Legislature of the Virgin Islands currently operates out of two offices in Christiansted; 1108 King Street and #36-C Strand Street. “Immediately following the hurricanes, we began to explore our options for relocation. We attempted to reach out to the Office of the Governor for assistance. Upon being turned down, our efforts led us to the two properties we have been operating out of since January.”

“When I took office at the beginning of this term, I made a statement regarding the welfare of the employees of this Institution. It did not sit well with the local media and members of our community. I made a commitment to improving the standard of health, and quality of life for our employees on St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas.”

“I am reminded of the many locations of the Legislature we leased on Contentment Road and most recently at the Lagoon Street Complex. “It pained us greatly to have to move out of Frederiksted after Hurricane Maria,” he added.

Senate President Jackson noted the ongoing discussions pertaining to the impact of mold, and severe flooding conditions, and sewage issues in Frederiksted. The Members of the 32nd Legislature agreed that it was time to deal with it rather than deferring it to the next Body.

“We are looking forward to new beginnings at our new location, where people can come to the institution and be proud of not just the Senate, but what the building signifies for the community of St. Croix,” O’Reilly concluded.

This has been a long, frustrating road, said Jackson. “We are pleased to announce today that we have secured a safe, habitable working environment for our Staff and look forward to our continued productivity as the First Branch of Government,” concluded Senate President Jackson.

 

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COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN LIEU OF SY 2018-2019

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Education, Youth, and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony from officials of the V.I. Department of Education (VIDE), on the status of public schools in preparation for School Year 2018-2019.

“We know that the beginning of the school year is rapidly approaching. Therefore, we want enlightenment on the conditions of the schools and to find solutions if necessary,” said Sen. Forde.

Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of VIDE shared the update. “We established a very aggressive schedule in our efforts to meet SY 2018-2019 opening deadline. To date, FEMA project worksheets totaling $117,941,204 for the Temporary Facilities Project is obligated.”

Thus far, negotiations for temporary and permanent repairs to the schools are ongoing. Commissioner McCollum stated that there are nine schools in the St. Thomas-St. John District that will have temporary repairs in preparation for full-session for the SY 2018-2019. On St. Croix District, temporary maintenance began in seven schools. Additionally, VIDE received $35,000,00 from insurance proceeds allocated by Governor Mapp through the Department of Property and Procurement to fund temporary repairs and temporary facility projects in conjunction with project worksheets approved by FEMA.

Furthermore, Public Schools were combined for a smooth transition from split-session to a full-session. On the St. Thomas-St. John District: a percentage of Glady’s Abraham students and Lockhart Elementary, a portion of Glady’s Abraham students and Ulla F. Muller Elementary School, a percentage of E. Benjamin Oliver students and Joseph Gomez Elementary School students and a percentage of E. Benjamin Oliver students with Yvonne Milliner-Bowsky Elementary School. On the St. Croix District Elena Christian and John Woodson Junior High Schools are combined. Although consolidation was necessary for those schools, there will be thirteen public schools receiving modular and sprung units in preparation for the full session for SY 2018-2019.

However, education leaders Ruby Simmonds Esannason, Carmen Howell, and Glenn Davis expressed opposition to the establishment of 56 modular classrooms on the athletic field and the tennis court at Charlotte Amalie High School stating that athletic programs are in jeopardy.

“This calculated scheme undermines the future of the young athletes,” said Davis. Howell stated that it threatens the critical standard for continued accreditation for the Health and Safety of students because one of the purposes of the field is to function as a viable evacuation site that allows ongoing drills in anticipation of emergencies. “The students will be placed in danger every time a heavy rain causes flooding on the fields,” added Esannason.

Sen. Forde stated that these are legitimate concerns. “However, authorities expressed that it is simply too late. If modular units are relocated, then in the commencement of the upcoming school year classrooms will not be ready on time, and split sessions will continue. The goal is to return students to full-session while repairing permanent school structures.”

Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “These concerns are from people with vast experience in the Education. I hope that the issues raised will not be an even bigger problem later.”

Separately, senators voted to hold in committee: Bill No. 32-0014-An Act amending Title 17 Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 9, section 86 relating to school attendance, absenteeism, and parental responsibility; and Bill No. 32-0203-An Act amending Title 17, Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 3 relating to the permanent closure of public schools.

Senators present are Jean Forde, Kurt Vialet, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, Tregenza Roach, Neville James, and Janelle Sarauw. PHOTOS: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/                            ###

LIMETREE BAY TERMINALS, LLC ARGUES FOR MAJOR CZM PERMIT

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ST. CROIX--The Committee of the Whole, chaired by Senate President Myron D. Jackson, met on Wednesday in the Virgin Islands Cardiac Center of the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital and Medical Center where testimony was given on a Major Coastal Zone Management Permit.

Senators heard from several Limetree Bay Terminals L.L.C. management Executives regarding Major CZM Permit CZX-29-17 for a Single Point Mooring (SPM) to be constructed on the south of St. Croix. The project’s activities will be specifically located seaward of Limetree Bay Terminals, LLC Terminal Plot No. 9 Reclaimed Land, Christiansted.

In his testimony, Jason Gleason, Maine Terminal Pilot and Captain for Limetree Bay Terminals, said as Lead Superintendent in the Marine Department and Project Lead on the SPM Project, Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) are some of the largest vessels in the world often over 1100ft long and 200ft, wide and may have a draft of over 700ft.

He added that historically to call on St. Croix, a VLCC would need to be roughly half loaded, and so, this project will enable their customers to transport crude to and from the facility in full loaded VLCC, offering a much more efficient operation.

According to Gleason, the Limetree Bay SPM will transfer crude oil to and from the facility and with the upgraded crude pumps completed last year, they can load out at approximately 45,000 barrels per hour. He pointed out that, the SPM project has been designed to Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF); United States Coast Guard (USCG) and American Bureau #56 King Street, Hamilton House, Christiansted, St. Croix 00820 340-773-2424, Fax: 340-712-2397, E-mail: publicaffairs@legvi.org of Shipping (ABS) standard. Furthermore, the entire system is designed to withstand the extreme conditions often found in in the Caribbean region.

Senators, who expressed their concerns as they relate to the project’s impact on the ecosystem, was given assurance by Gleason that after an extensive environmental assessment and re-routing of the project to minimize environmental impact, it was determined that a few corals were still in the pathway of the project.

According to him, these corals will be transplanted well clear of the project by their environmental contractor, Bio Impact. They will also be constructing a man-made reef to provide additional habitat where some of the coral will be transplanted on both the south and north shores of St. Croix in areas already approved by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR).

Gleason added that during construction, Bio Impact will be monitoring for turbidity, the effect on wildlife, and any other issues. Moreover, Bioimpact will stop the work immediately if any issues arise, and that they will work with DPNR and the federal government to remedy prior to resumption of construction.

In respect to local employment, Gleason told Senators that many of the materials to construct have been procured and delivered to St. Croix, and with the ratification by the legislature, they will commence construction as soon as possible. The construction phase, he added, will result in employment for laborers, concrete workers, welders, inspectors and painters on St. Croix.

Other testifiers for Limetree Bay Terminals were: Joyce Wakefield, Environmental Specialist; Amy Dempsey, President of Bio Impact; and Jeff Gorman, Engineer, Lloyds Engineers. Senators at Wednesday’s Committee of Whole Hearing were: Senate President, Myron D. Jackson, Vice-President, Rivera-O’Reilly, Jean A. Forde, Neville A. James, Marvin A. Blyden, Dwayne DeGraff, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, Positive T.A. Nelson, Tregenza A. Roach, Sammuel Sanes, Janelle K. Sarauw, Brian A. Smith, and Kurt A. Vialet.

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LAWMAKERS APPROVE NOMINEES, CZM AND ZONING REQUESTS DURING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

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ST. THOMAS– On Wednesday, Members of the 32nd Legislature, convened in Legislative Session at the Capitol Building. Led by Senate President Myron Jackson, the Body considered zoning requests, CZM permits and several measures.

The meeting began with the consideration of the following Nominees:

  • Nelson Petty, Jr.– Commissioner, Dept. of Public Works
  • Elizabeth Armstrong (Reappointment)– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STX)
  • Stacy Bourne– Member, VI Casino Control Commission (STT/STJ)
  • Hubert Turnbull– Member, WAPA Authority Board (STT/STJ)
  • Julio Rhymer, Sr.– Director, Office of Management & Budget (OMB)
  • John A. Quelch– Member, University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees (STX)
  • Dina Perry-Malone– Member, VI Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (STT/STJ)

All Nominees were approved, however, Senators shared their concerns regarding their nominations and current issues in their respective agencies. “Our margin for error is minute,” Sen. DeGraff expressed. After thanking the Body, Nelson Petty, Jr., updated the Body on the status of Capital projects in the territory. “My focus has been on our capital projects and I am pleased to report three projects on St. Croix currently in the procurement phase and on St. Thomas, preconstruction began yesterday with the Veterans Drive project”.

The second block of the meeting considered the following Coastal Zone Management Permits and Zoning requests:

  • Bill No. 32-0153 – An Act ratifying the Governor’s approval of Minor Coastal Zone Permit No. CZJ-20-11W issued to David McDaniel and Cheryl McDaniel. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0154 – An Act ratifying Major Coastal Zone Permit No. CZT-2-16 (L&W) issued to DUN RUN GOLF, LLC, for the continued use and occupancy of the existing reverse osmosis plant with 12” diameter, 140 feet intake line and 12-inch, 650 feet long outfall line located at Plot No. C-2-Q Estate Lovenlund, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The permit was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0142 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 13AA Estate Contant, No. 2 Cruz Bay Quarter St. John from R-2 (Residential-Low Density-One and Two Family) to R-4 (Residential-Medium Density). The zoning request was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0181 – An Act granting a zoning use variance for Parcel No. 171 Estate Contant-Enighed, Cruz Bay, St. John Virgin Islands, to allow for the operation of a car rental business. The zoning request was passed and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0182 – An Act to rezone Parcel No. 4-A Estate Cruz Bay Town, Cruz Bay Quarter, St. John, from B-3 (Business-Scattered) to B2 (Business-Secondary/Neighborhood). The zoning request was approved as adapted and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0187 – An Act rezoning Parcel No. 6D Estate Thomas, New Quarter, St. Thomas from R-3 (Residential-Medium Density) to B-2 (Business-Secondary Neighborhood) and from the B-2 zoning designation granting a use variance. The zoning request passed in its original format and forwarded to the Governor.

“We make a way for the big businesses, but not for the small players. We need to show them that we are sensitive to the small businesses, families,  and individuals trying to establish wealth,” stated Non-Majority Leader, Sen. Positive T.A. Nelson. Similar comments were expressed by the members of the Body after two zoning requests were removed from the agenda during the 2nd block.

 

The following bills were considered after press time:

 

  • Bill No. 32-0168–An Act amending Title 22 VI Code, Chapter 39, designating current sections 951 through 983 subchapterI, Section 984 as Subchapter II, and by adding a subchapter III entitled, “The Standard Forfeiture Law of 2018 for Life Insurance,” which meets the accreditation in its model laws and updates the insurance laws of the Virgin Islands of the United States placing them on par with other United States jurisdictions thereby affording greater and more effective protection to the policyholders in the Virgin Islands. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0065–An Act to appropriate the sum of $500,000 to the Economic Development Authority for “energy efficient” retrofitting of the Industrial Park on the island of St. Croix. Sponsored by Sen. Neville James, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0178–A Resolution to honor to commend the ALL HANDS and HEART-SMART RESPONSE. Proposed by Sen. Jean Forde, the measure was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0188–An Act appropriating $3,500,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund for maintenance dredging of the Schooner Bay Channel. The measure, sponsored by Senators Kurt Vialetand Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, was approved and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0147–An Act amending Title 27 VI Code, Chapter 1, Subchapter I relating to the special restricted licensing of physicians and subchapter II (a) relating to the practice of telemedicine; amending Title 19, Chapter 15, relating to the licensing, inspection and regulation of healthcare facilities and health services; and amending Title 33, Chapter 3, relating to exemptions from the payment of gross receipts on all Medicaid and Medicare payments. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0175–An Act amending Title 29 VI Code, Chapter 12 to strengthen the Economic Development Commission. Sponsored by Sen. Kurt Vialet, the measure was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0189–An Act amending Title 18 VI Code to reprogram the appropriation of Act No. 7904 to conduct the 2018 primaries and makes the appropriation available until expended. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jean Forde, was approved as amended and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0059–An Act to amend Title 29 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 9 relating to regulation of billboards. This bill enlarges the definition of “advertising device and bans the use of changeable 6 electronic variable message signs, digital billboards or smartboards that have animation, movement, or the appearance or optical illusion of movement. Sponsored by Sen. Myron Jackson, the measure was approved by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

  • Bill No. 32-0024–An Act amending title 3 Virgin Islands Code, chapter 1, section 1 to provide for the position of Curator and amending title 31 Virgin Islands Code to add a chapter 42 establishing the Preservation of Historic Government Collections Act and for other purposes. Sponsored by Senate President Myron Jackson, the measure was approved as amended by the Full Body and forwarded to the Governor.

 

The Bills can be accessed in their entirety on our website via Bill Tracker module: http://legvi.org:82/

 

 

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COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF EDUCATION POST-HURRICANES

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Education, Youth, and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Tuesday, to receive testimony from education officials, on the status of the educational programs and facilities post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. However, the written testimony submitted by the Commissioner of the Department of Education Sharon McCollum stated that Governor Kenneth Mapp gave a directive preventing education leaders from attending the meeting today.

“We have done our best to bring all of the stakeholders to this committee meeting. We learned yesterday that officials from the Department of Education (DOE) will not be available until April 13th as instructed by the Governor,” said Sen. Forde. “I cannot see the justification for canceling today. This was a follow-up of from the school tours previously conducted in both districts.”

Although officials from the Department of Education were absent, leaders from the American Federation of Teachers were present to share an update.

President of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers (AFT) Carol Callwood stated that some classrooms have roof damage; air condition units need repairs and there are continued reports of mold and asbestos. “The cost and time needed to properly clean and repair the schools and activity centers before classes resume for the 2018-2019 school year have not been identified or at least have not been shared with us,” said President Callwood.

Similarly, Rosa Soto-Thomas, President of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers said, “Currently, in the St. Croix District, we continue to house thirteen schools in five buildings. Members who work during the afternoon sessions have reported that they have overstayed their welcome at assigned schools and are eager to return to their home school or temporary modular units.” Additional woes include extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement daily with the Government of the Virgin Islands which expired on August 31, 2015, to-date teacher’s salaries are based on the 2010-2011 pay scale and teachers are denied combined sick, personal and annual leaves.

“In previous meetings, the Commissioner stated that schools will be ready for the 2018-2019 school year. Where did you get the information from that schools will not be ready,” asked Sen. Novelle Francis.  In response, Carver Farrow, President of STT-STJ of EAA Union said, “I want to believe that all efforts are made by DOE to prepare for the upcoming school year. However, the best scenario is to order, set-up and make ready the modular structures by September 2018 and I hardly believe this will happen in the next five months.” Sen. Myron Jackson said, “We have to come to grips with long-term planning for our schools.”

Sen. Forde stated that the Education System in the Virgin Islands is not in a happy place. “Months after the storms, modular units should already be in place. On St. John, the modular units could be placed in the ballfield. On St. Thomas, the modular units could fill the grounds at the University of the Virgin Islands. Classrooms still aren’t ready for the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers are still lacking necessary resources. How long will this continue? We have concerns,” said Sen. Forde.

Senators present are Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, Tregenza Roach, Neville James, Myron Jackson and Janelle Sarauw. PHOTOS: http://www.legvi.org/committeemeetings/Media/ ###

COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS EDUCATION SYSTEM POST HURRICANE IRMA AND HURRICANE MARIA

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Education, Youth, and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from education officials, on the status of the schools and education system post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

 

“There is 2.5 million square foot of our public education system has suffered irreparable damage, some of which can be seen today and that will surface years later,” said Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE). Currently, there are eight schools condemned territory-wide. There are two schools in St. Thomas-St. John District and six schools in the St. Croix District that were damaged extensively. The Curriculum Center and Procurement Warehouse also sustained similar fate.

 

“How was the assessment of the condemned schools conducted?” inquired Sen. Forde. Commissioner McCollum stated that the Army Corp of Engineers and VIDOE maintenance division and engineering team collaborated to conduct assessments.

 

As a result of the condemned schools, VIDOE are holding double sessions to ensure public school students are receiving an adequate education. Commissioner McCollum stated that on the St. Thomas-St. John District, Addelita Cancryn students, are on double sessions with Charlotte Amalie High School. Students at the Gladys Abraham Elementary School are using the Ulla F. Muller Elementary School. On the St. Croix District, the John H. Woodson Junior High School and Elena Christian Junior High School will continue the double session with Central High School.

 

“Will students still meet the requirement of 1080 school hours with the double sessions?” asked Sen. Positive Nelson. Commissioner McCollum said, “Adjustments made to our calendar will assist the Department in supporting our students in meeting 180 instructional days, not 1080 hours.”

 

Sen. Brian Smith asked, “What is the total number of students in both districts post-hurricanes?” Commissioner McCollum stated that there are 3,304 students in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent for the St. Croix District, shared that there are approximately 2,000 enrolled students.

 

Collectively, senators inquired about an assessment for mold remediation in the schools. “The mobilization of my team will commence in the next 72 hours for mold assessment and remediation,” responded Nicole Bootman-Shepard, Disaster Recovery Expert for A.E. Com. Commissioner McCollum added that meanwhile school administrators and school nurses are documenting mole related incidents. All persons are encouraged to report rooms with mold and they are immediately relocated from the alleged infected room or area.

 

However, Carol Callwood, President of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers believes that the schools are not ready to open. “I questioned the safety of the job sites with the presence of mold and the impact that it will have on the health and staff of our students.”

 

Committee Members present are senators Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith. Non-Committee senators are Dwayne DeGraff, Janelle Sarauw, Positive Nelson.

LAWMAKERS UPDATED ON THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Education, Youth, Recreation chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting on Wednesday, at the Capitol Building to receive testimony on the status of the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE) and the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation.

“There are a lot of concerns in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. There was tremendous structural damage sustained to some of the schools. Currently, there are split sessions, some teachers have resigned, and some students relocated to the mainland. Therefore, today we will learn about the status of Public Education System,” said Sen. Forde.

“The most significant challenge the Department is facing across the Territory is the scarcity of materials and A&E Contractors,” said Sharon McCollum, Commissioner of VIDOE. “Roof damage continues to allow moisture into schools facilitating the exacerbated growth of mold.”

Post-hurricanes 2.9 million square feet of the public instructional education system has suffered irreparable damage. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted assessments of all schools, and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEMA) is in the process of site evaluations. Thus far, the cost to repair damaged schools is approximately $1.2 billion. However, the final value is still undetermined.

“Did the department salvage valuables from the damaged schools?” inquired Sen. Forde. Commissioner McCollum stated that some materials were retrieved. However, other materials remained because of the possibility of cross-contamination. Insular Superintendent of VIDOE Dione Wells-Hendrington added, “The department is still in the process of removing equipment from shuttered schools. Materials are relocated to the auditorium for distribution to functioning schools.”

In the absence of some permanent school structures, the Department will use temporary facilities such as modular structures and sprung structures. The modular structures, scheduled to be installed in six months, will house temporary classrooms. The purpose of the sprung structures is to house support facilities such as administrative offices, curriculum centers, gymnasiums, auditoriums, kitchens, and cafeterias.

Sen. Janelle Sarauw requested clarification of the negotiation process between the VIDOE and FEMA as it pertains to the modular structures. In response, Territorial Director for Capital Projects and Facilities James Bernier said, “This process is ongoing. The Department is continuously submitting documents to FEMA upon request.” Commissioner McCollum added that this is a slow process because FEMA changes the staff every six weeks; this results in the Department continually briefing FEMA of the status.

“Can you expound on the 100% reimbursement of Public Assistance with FEMA?” asked Sen. Tregenza Roach. Chief of Staff of VIDOE Anthony Thomas stated that the monies for the modular structures would be fully reimbursed once installed within the next six months. If that period passes, the Government of the Virgin Islands is financially responsible for a percentage of the cost of the modular structures.

Separately, VIDOE experienced a sharp decline in student enrollment. There is a total of 10,868 students attending school. However, officials are optimistic that student enrollment will increase for the 2018-2019 school year. Similarly, personnel has also decreased. There have been 60 resignations since the occurrence of the two storms which caused the Department to rely heavily on the substitute pool.

In addition to VIDOE, the Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation (DSPR) also shared an update. Assistant Commissioner of DSPR Calvert White stated that an estimated $20 million needed for repairs and damages caused by the hurricanes. Currently, DSPR lacks the upfront cash necessary to fund projects. There is also a low availability of programs for children due to structural damages and safety issues. Therefore, DSPR is coordinating with non-profit organizations to provide activities for the children.

Senators present are Jean Forde, Brian Smith, Tregenza Roach, Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis, Marvin Blyden, Kurt Vialet, Neville James, Myron Jackson, Dwayne DeGraff and Janelle Sarauw.

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COMMITTEE UPDATED ON THE STATUS OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS EDUCATION SYSTEM POST HURRICANE IRMA AND HURRICANE MARIA

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St. Thomas – The Committee of Education, Youth, and Recreation, chaired by Sen. Jean Forde, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from education officials, on the status of the schools and education system post-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

 

“There is 2.5 million square foot of our public education system has suffered irreparable damage, some of which can be seen today and that will surface years later,” said Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of V.I. Department of Education (VIDOE). Currently, there are eight schools condemned territory-wide. There are two schools in St. Thomas-St. John District and six schools in the St. Croix District that were damaged extensively. The Curriculum Center and Procurement Warehouse also sustained similar fate.

 

“How was the assessment of the condemned schools conducted?” inquired Sen. Forde. Commissioner McCollum stated that the Army Corp of Engineers and VIDOE maintenance division and engineering team collaborated to conduct assessments.

 

As a result of the condemned schools, VIDOE are holding double sessions to ensure public school students are receiving an adequate education. Commissioner McCollum stated that on the St. Thomas-St. John District, Addelita Cancryn students, are on double sessions with Charlotte Amalie High School. Students at the Gladys Abraham Elementary School are using the Ulla F. Muller Elementary School. On the St. Croix District, the John H. Woodson Junior High School and Elena Christian Junior High School will continue the double session with Central High School.

 

“Will students still meet the requirement of 1080 school hours with the double sessions?” asked Sen. Positive Nelson. Commissioner McCollum said, “Adjustments made to our calendar will assist the Department in supporting our students in meeting 180 instructional days, not 1080 hours.”

 

Sen. Brian Smith asked, “What is the total number of students in both districts post-hurricanes?” Commissioner McCollum stated that there are 3,304 students in the St. Thomas-St. John District. Colleen Williams, Insular Superintendent for the St. Croix District, shared that there are approximately 2,000 enrolled students.

 

Collectively, senators inquired about an assessment for mold remediation in the schools. “The mobilization of my team will commence in the next 72 hours for mold assessment and remediation,” responded Nicole Bootman-Shepard, Disaster Recovery Expert for A.E. Com. Commissioner McCollum added that meanwhile school administrators and school nurses are documenting mole related incidents. All persons are encouraged to report rooms with mold and they are immediately relocated from the alleged infected room or area.

 

However, Carol Callwood, President of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers believes that the schools are not ready to open. “I questioned the safety of the job sites with the presence of mold and the impact that it will have on the health and staff of our students.”

 

Committee Members present are senators Jean Forde, Novelle Francis, Kurt Vialet, Tregenza Roach, Brian Smith. Non-Committee senators are Dwayne DeGraff, Janelle Sarauw, Positive Nelson.

VIRGIN ISLANDS DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION SHARES STATUS OF SCHOOL READINESS FOR UPCOMING SCHOOL YEAR

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St. Thomas – The Committee on Education, Youth, and Recreation chaired by Sen. Jean Forde held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, to receive testimony from officials from the Department of Education on the status of the Virgin Islands Education System for the 2017-2018 academic year.

“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the readiness of the school facilities that will accommodate teachers and students for the upcoming school year,” said Sen. Forde. “The committee has not done the annual school tour because we are familiar with the activity or lack of activity that took place in the schools. Two weeks ago, monies that were appropriated for summer maintenance was released. Therefore, little activity has occurred.”

The Virgin Islands Department of Education (DOE) had to prioritize the maintenance projects for the 2017-2018 school year because of budget restraints.

Charlesworth McCarthy, Director, Maintenance and Plant Operations for the St. Thomas-St. John District for DOE said, “We conduct preventative maintenance for some of our facilities, which can be categorized as routine, mandatory, and regulated services totaling $815,182. The monies were used to cover the cost of grease trap services, water testing, landscaping, and fire extinguisher re-certifications.”

Additional repairs and maintenance projects included electrical upgrades, air condition replacements, bathroom renovations, and general repairs and maintenance.  Kitchen equipment servicing, pest control applications, and janitorial activities were also completed in preparation for the upcoming school year, according to Director McCarthy.

“From 1-5, one being the highest and five being the lowest, how will you rate school readiness for the 2017-2018 school year?” asked Sen. Smith. Joseph Sibilly, Territorial Director, Maintenance and Plant Operations of DOE stated that he will rate it at two because schools in both districts are ready for the upcoming school year.

However, Sen. Forde stated that the schools may not be ready because funds for maintenance projects were recently released. “If schools are ready yet the money was granted just two weeks ago, that must mean there wasn’t much work to be done then,” said Sen. Forde. “I don’t know how the schools are ready when the heat in the classrooms are unbearable because of the lack of functioning air conditioners. We still have a lot of work to do to assist with providing a functioning classroom environment.”

Separately, the Virgin Islands Board of Education (VIBE) conducted the 2016-2017 School Management Accountability Report. This is a thorough annual assessment and evaluation of public school facilities, school guidance division and school administration in the territory; stated Emmett Hansen, Associate Executive Director of VIBE.

“Based on the report, how would you grade the school system from A to F?” asked Sen. Brian Smith. Kyza Callwood, Member of VIBE said, “I would give it a C because there is always room for improvement.” Sen. Smith further inquired, “What are some of your concerns?” Callwood stated that some of his concerns are that teachers need a raise, maintenance issues, outdated textbooks and there are mold and mosquitos in some classrooms.

Due to the lack of funds, all the challenges that the schools are facing cannot be addressed. “Can you identify the top three problems in the school system?” asked Sen. Forde. Callwood stated that the technological status of the schools and computer accessibility needs to be upgraded, the School Lunch Program and more supplies/resources are needed.

Sen. Tregenza Roach stated that academic achievement needs to play a major role in the Management and Accountability Report.

“The report focuses heavily on maintenance issues. However, there is minimal information on instruction and academic improvement,” said Sen. Roach. “The report should include strengths and weaknesses such as the percentage of college entrances, school dropout rate, and the number of students who passed and failed the Smarter Balance Test.”

“Is there a strategic plan that VIBE has in targeting areas such as revising policies, education curriculum and moving our education system into the 21st century?” asked Sen. Janelle Sarauw. Director Hansen said, “There is quite a bit of work that needs to be done in the Department of Education. VIBE is working on changing policies, creating awareness to administrators and providing mediation for students who are bullied.

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