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St. Thomas – The Committee on Finance chaired by Sen. Kurt Vialet, held a meeting at the Capitol Building on Friday, to receive testimony on an overview of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget from the Virgin Islands Department of Education (VIDOE).

“During the last ten fiscal years, VIDOE has experienced severe budget shortfalls valuing $45,829,588 making it extremely challenging to meet all of the Department’s mandatory program needs. This year is no different,” said Sharon McCollum, Ph.D., Commissioner of VIDOE.

For FY2018 the General Fund recommended budget is $156,755,559. This is a reduction of $10,295,271 in comparison to $167,050,830 for FY 2017. The budget breakdown is as follows: $93,081,386 for personnel services, $39,962,587 for fringe benefits, $3,965,048 for materials and supplies, $11,494,660 for mandatory costs, and $8,251,878 for utilities.

“Can you expound on the $8,251,878 representing a 17% reduction of $1,748,122 that is for utility services?” asked Sen. Marvin Blyden. Commissioner McCollum said, “VIDOE has been diligent in managing electrical and water bills. If needed, supplemental funds can assist with costs.”

According to the post audit report, in FY 2017 the Federal E-Rate Reimbursement Trust non-appropriated funds was $8,225,804. This is a 69% reduction for FY 2018 representing $2,548,365.  “Comparatively, why is there a $6 million reduction?” inquired Sen. Blyden. Anthony Thomas, Chief of Staff for VIDOE stated that the challenges come from operational demand.

“The E-Rate Program covers specific aspects of the cost of technology servicing repairs for thirty-one Activity Centers. However, the E-Rate does not provide funding for supplies or damaged equipment that is caused by environmental challenges and unexpected power outages,” added Commissioner McCollum.

Lawmakers also inquired about Federal Funds, grants and awards.

“Can you give me a ballpark figure of Federal Funds allocated for Adult Education?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner McCollum said, “It is approximate $1 million. The monies were in serious jeopardy because the former director did not submit the paperwork.” Sen. Vialet stated that it is important for individuals who are charged to overlook Federal Funds to do their jobs because the oversight can be costly.

Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “In terms of Federal Funds, the post audit reports states that the efforts to attain current grant status on awards remain unanswered.” Commissioner McCollum said, “There is no response to the post audit report because VIDOE has submitted status reports monthly to the Office of Management and Budget and Government House.”

Separately, for FY 2017 the reimbursable value of National School Lunch Program was $4,918,989. From FY 2013 to FY 2016, the Virgin Islands Inspector General conducted an audit report on the School Lunch Program.

Steven van Beverhoudt, CFE, CGFM Inspector General of the Virgin Islands Office of the Inspector General shared some of the challenges found upon completion of the audit report.

“We found that complete, accurate, and current records of receipt, distribution, and warehousing of inventory were not kept. Inventory records were modified or adjusted without proper written justification,” said Inspector General Beverhoudt. “Education officials were negligent in securing and accounting for inventory received, delivered, stored, and/or used at district warehouses and schools.”

“The audit highlighted several issues with the School Lunch Program. Thus far, what changes has VIDOE implemented?” asked Sen. Vialet. Commissioner McCollum said, “VIDOE has collaborated with the United States Department of Agriculture to train staff on recipe preparation, plate presentation, and customer service.”

In addition to the VIDOE, the Office of the Inspector General shared FY 2018 budget request. Inspector General Beverhoudt stated that the budget proposal for FY 2018 is $2,023,605. This is a reduction of $224,845 in comparison to the FY 2017 appropriated amount. The breakdown is as follows: $1,277,416 for personnel services, $461,237 for fringe benefits, $64,952 for supplies, $40,000 for utilities and $180,000 for other services.

Committee Members present are senators Kurt Vialet, Marvin Blyden, Neville James, Brian Smith, Nereida O’Reilly, Tregenza Roach and Dwayne DeGraff.  Also in attendance was non-committee member Sen. Janelle Sarauw.

The next Committee on Finance meeting will take place on Monday, August 21, 2017 at the Fritz E. Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix.