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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 24, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesPFA OFFICIAL: BOND INTEREST CAN'T GO TO FIX SCHOOLS

PFA OFFICIAL: BOND INTEREST CAN'T GO TO FIX SCHOOLS

Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole in a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has urged the governor to declare a "state of emergency" in the territory's public schools and to use part of the "interest earned on 1998 bond proceeds" to correct physical plant problems in school buildings.
However, according to Amadeo Francis, director of finance and administration for the Public Finance Authority, which issued the bonds, the governor could not divert interest from the funds to make such repairs "without putting into peril" the projects for which they were approved.
The $40 million in bond funds is for reconstructing the three schools destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn — Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and the Lockhart and Peace Corps Elementary Schools. Construction is under way at all three sites.
Cole, in his letter to the governor Thursday, said he had visited all of the public schools in the St. Thomas/St. John District and had found "numerous health, safety and structural problems." His conclusion, he said, was that "teachers have every cause to be angered by unacceptable working conditions."
At most schools, he wrote Turnbull, "the decadence of the equipment and textbooks in use is beyond modern imagination." The reference was apparently to physical decay, as he made note of "decade-old textbooks."
In his visits, Cole said, he encountered "evidence of plumbing and structural deterioration;" infestations of rodents, termites and bees; and, at the Joseph Gomez School, pigeons nesting beneath the roof and defecating from ceilings into classrooms.
Further, the unaligned first-term senator said, "at least one school" contains asbestos, "a known cancer-causing agent."
Cole urged Turnbull as a former educator and Education commissioner and the current governor and Public Finance Authority chair "to seek funds from the interest on bonds floated in 1998" to construct the BCB, Lockhart and Peace Corps schools. Cole said the funds should be used to correct the conditions throughout the territory that he outlined.
According to Francis, the bond interest "can be used for approved projects," which he defined as "those projects for which the bonds were issued." He added, "Any interest earned would undoubtedly have to go to cover any cost overruns on the approved projects."
The 1998 PFA bond issue was for a total of $541.8 million to cover what was then "all outstanding debt of the Virgin Islands," including $106 million to repay an interim loan taken out by the Schneider administration to pay income tax refunds, Francis said. A total of $94 million was for capital improvements, and $40 million of this $94 million was to rebuild the three schools.
The bond money remains on deposit in interest-bearing accounts until it is expended, Francis said. However, he said, "We are spending it pretty fast, because construction is going on at a good pace."
"There are almost always cost overruns in projects like these," he said, citing as an extreme example the ongoing Christiansted Government House renovation. That project was initially funded at $3 million, he noted, and the cost to date stands at "$12 million and growing."

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Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole in a letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has urged the governor to declare a "state of emergency" in the territory's public schools and to use part of the "interest earned on 1998 bond proceeds" to correct physical plant problems in school buildings.
However, according to Amadeo Francis, director of finance and administration for the Public Finance Authority, which issued the bonds, the governor could not divert interest from the funds to make such repairs "without putting into peril" the projects for which they were approved.
The $40 million in bond funds is for reconstructing the three schools destroyed by Hurricane Marilyn -- Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and the Lockhart and Peace Corps Elementary Schools. Construction is under way at all three sites.
Cole, in his letter to the governor Thursday, said he had visited all of the public schools in the St. Thomas/St. John District and had found "numerous health, safety and structural problems." His conclusion, he said, was that "teachers have every cause to be angered by unacceptable working conditions."
At most schools, he wrote Turnbull, "the decadence of the equipment and textbooks in use is beyond modern imagination." The reference was apparently to physical decay, as he made note of "decade-old textbooks."
In his visits, Cole said, he encountered "evidence of plumbing and structural deterioration;" infestations of rodents, termites and bees; and, at the Joseph Gomez School, pigeons nesting beneath the roof and defecating from ceilings into classrooms.
Further, the unaligned first-term senator said, "at least one school" contains asbestos, "a known cancer-causing agent."
Cole urged Turnbull as a former educator and Education commissioner and the current governor and Public Finance Authority chair "to seek funds from the interest on bonds floated in 1998" to construct the BCB, Lockhart and Peace Corps schools. Cole said the funds should be used to correct the conditions throughout the territory that he outlined.
According to Francis, the bond interest "can be used for approved projects," which he defined as "those projects for which the bonds were issued." He added, "Any interest earned would undoubtedly have to go to cover any cost overruns on the approved projects."
The 1998 PFA bond issue was for a total of $541.8 million to cover what was then "all outstanding debt of the Virgin Islands," including $106 million to repay an interim loan taken out by the Schneider administration to pay income tax refunds, Francis said. A total of $94 million was for capital improvements, and $40 million of this $94 million was to rebuild the three schools.
The bond money remains on deposit in interest-bearing accounts until it is expended, Francis said. However, he said, "We are spending it pretty fast, because construction is going on at a good pace."
"There are almost always cost overruns in projects like these," he said, citing as an extreme example the ongoing Christiansted Government House renovation. That project was initially funded at $3 million, he noted, and the cost to date stands at "$12 million and growing."