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EDUCATION CUTS 5 PERCENT

Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds told the Senate Finance Committee Friday that her department could sustain only a 5 percent budget cut for Fiscal Year 2000.
Simmonds began her testimony saying she had people praying for her, presumably due to the problems and controversy plaguing her department in recent days.
Thursday night Simmonds faced a five-hour hearing of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee called to address contaminated water at Sibilly Elementary School and its James Monroe Annex.
Friday morning as Simmonds began her budget testimony, teachers at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School were staging a walkout due to media reports of substantial salary increases to some government employees, including a promotion and salary increase of $15,440 for June Archibald, director of public relations for Education — as the teachers await retroactive wages and pay increases.
Simmonds testified that some of the projected 5 percent budget cut would come from replacing long-term personnel who are leaving the department with entry-level personnel at lower salaries.
It was reported that 134 teachers have left the department since January. It is hard to replace them, according to Alscess Lewis-Brown, Education director of personnel and labor relations, because salaries in the territory are not competitive.
The starting salary for teachers is $22,751, with a cap of about $54,000 a year for long-term teachers.
Simmonds said Education is personnel intensive, pointing out that about 2,500 employees are responsible for the education of 30,000 students.
According to Simmonds' testimony, 66 percent of Education employees are instructional; 19 percent are support staff such as nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, custodians, groundskeepers and food service workers; another 7 percent are school administrators — principals and assistant principals; and 2 percent are adult education staff.
General Education Department administration personnel account for a "mere" 5 percent — according to Simmonds — or about $5.4 million.
The total budget submitted was $121,243,578, of which $108,747,942 is for personal services and fringe benefits. Of that amount, federal funds cover about $12 million.
A total of $29,427,276 is available in federal funds for the territory; however, it was revealed that only about $7.9 million has been drawn down for fiscal year 1999. Brown assured the committee that the funds would not be lost. She said they would be rolled over into the new fiscal year without any reduction in benefits.
Education Committee chair Norman Jn.-Baptiste questioned Simmonds about travel expenditures in July of about $123,000 to send teachers and Board of Education officials to conferences off-island.
Simmonds said the training was necessary and that it was also refreshing and inspirational. She said board members went along so they could see what was required of teachers.
Simmonds said one proposal for saving money was to require high school students to pay for their own transportation to school. She said the department spends $5 million a year on school buses and in the case of the high schools the buses are not fully utilized — they often run half empty. A pass system for Vitran buses could save money, she said.
Another concern in light of the Sibilly School problems was maintenance. Simmonds said there are two plumbers for the entire St. Thomas/St. John district.
Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Roosevelt David asked Simmonds how the Turnbull administration's reorganization plan might affect her department. Simmonds refused to discuss the plan, saying that question would be answered on Sept. 15 — the date slated for the presentation of the plan.

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Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds told the Senate Finance Committee Friday that her department could sustain only a 5 percent budget cut for Fiscal Year 2000.
Simmonds began her testimony saying she had people praying for her, presumably due to the problems and controversy plaguing her department in recent days.
Thursday night Simmonds faced a five-hour hearing of the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee called to address contaminated water at Sibilly Elementary School and its James Monroe Annex.
Friday morning as Simmonds began her budget testimony, teachers at Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School were staging a walkout due to media reports of substantial salary increases to some government employees, including a promotion and salary increase of $15,440 for June Archibald, director of public relations for Education -- as the teachers await retroactive wages and pay increases.
Simmonds testified that some of the projected 5 percent budget cut would come from replacing long-term personnel who are leaving the department with entry-level personnel at lower salaries.
It was reported that 134 teachers have left the department since January. It is hard to replace them, according to Alscess Lewis-Brown, Education director of personnel and labor relations, because salaries in the territory are not competitive.
The starting salary for teachers is $22,751, with a cap of about $54,000 a year for long-term teachers.
Simmonds said Education is personnel intensive, pointing out that about 2,500 employees are responsible for the education of 30,000 students.
According to Simmonds' testimony, 66 percent of Education employees are instructional; 19 percent are support staff such as nurses, guidance counselors, librarians, custodians, groundskeepers and food service workers; another 7 percent are school administrators -- principals and assistant principals; and 2 percent are adult education staff.
General Education Department administration personnel account for a "mere" 5 percent -- according to Simmonds -- or about $5.4 million.
The total budget submitted was $121,243,578, of which $108,747,942 is for personal services and fringe benefits. Of that amount, federal funds cover about $12 million.
A total of $29,427,276 is available in federal funds for the territory; however, it was revealed that only about $7.9 million has been drawn down for fiscal year 1999. Brown assured the committee that the funds would not be lost. She said they would be rolled over into the new fiscal year without any reduction in benefits.
Education Committee chair Norman Jn.-Baptiste questioned Simmonds about travel expenditures in July of about $123,000 to send teachers and Board of Education officials to conferences off-island.
Simmonds said the training was necessary and that it was also refreshing and inspirational. She said board members went along so they could see what was required of teachers.
Simmonds said one proposal for saving money was to require high school students to pay for their own transportation to school. She said the department spends $5 million a year on school buses and in the case of the high schools the buses are not fully utilized -- they often run half empty. A pass system for Vitran buses could save money, she said.
Another concern in light of the Sibilly School problems was maintenance. Simmonds said there are two plumbers for the entire St. Thomas/St. John district.
Sens. Almando "Rocky" Liburd and Roosevelt David asked Simmonds how the Turnbull administration's reorganization plan might affect her department. Simmonds refused to discuss the plan, saying that question would be answered on Sept. 15 -- the date slated for the presentation of the plan.