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HomeNewsArchivesSTUDY FINDS POLITICS UNDERMINING EDUCATION

STUDY FINDS POLITICS UNDERMINING EDUCATION

May 27, 2002 – Legislation signed into law last Nov. 20 directed the University of the Virgin Islands to conduct a study of the administrative efficiency of the V.I. Education Department. UVI submitted the report of its findings on May 5.
The study findings document what anyone who has come into contact with the department — as student, parent, teacher, staff, overseer or critic — already knows: that the Education Department "operates under a fundamentally flawed administrative structure."
The study was conducted by two UVI faculty members, Anita Gordon Plaskett, professor of education, and Greg Braxton-Brown, professor of management, under the supervision of LaVerne Ragster, who is slated to become president of the university in September and currently is senior vice president and provost.
The report is posted in its entirety in the Data section of the Source under the heading "UVI study of Education Department efficiency".
The researchers concluded that the department operates with an "acceptable" degree of efficiency "for decisions under its control." However, they said, its organizational structure as mandated by the Organic Act "is not efficient" and the additional structuring created to comply with federal requirements "does not entirely exist operationally," but, rather, is a "largely virtual structure [that] does not function efficiently."
At the heart of the problem, the study concludes, is the so-called "state" level of bureaucracy. Federal rules and regulations address the circumstances of most states: There are hundreds of local school districts serving thousands of local schools under the umbrella of a state education agency (SEA). The state agency exists to establish policy, receive and disburse federal and state funds and monitor and report on the quality of education in the state. Local education agencies (LEA's) exist to "accomplish the delivery of education."
In the Virgin Islands, there are only two local educational agencies — the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts. And yet, a full-fledged "state" level of administration — in the form of personnel, pronouncements and paperwork – exists to serves the two entities.
The Education Department, the report states, "is a political entity whose focus and services are more closely related to the goals of political governance than education. The executive and managerial classes are largely political appointees with tightly regulated spans of control." In essence, it states, the department "is recreated with the election of each governor, and the lack of executive/managerial job stability creates a scenario where those who operate the department possess very different attentions and goals from those who deliver education. The results have been well documented in significant numbers of students performing poorly, labor strife, maintenance problems, shortages, withholding of federal funds and accreditation problems."
The researchers concluded: "The poor educational results achieved by composite rankings of public school students in the territory are not related to a wasteful administrative structure but rather to a fundamentally flawed administrative structure."
The cost of education
And insufficient funding, to go by the report, is not the problem. Working from the governor's recommend budget for Fiscal Year 2001, which ended last Sept. 30, the researchers calculated the cost of public education in the territory at $13,965 per student. (They note that the final budget allocations may have differed from those proposed, but the proposed budget was what they had to work with.)
Last Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau, in one of its occasional releases of specialized data from Census 2000, issued statistics on per-pupil spending for education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia for the 1999-2000 school year. At the top of the list were New Jersey with $10,283 per student, New York with $10,039 and the District of Columbia with $9,933. The national average was $6,835 — less than half the amount calculated by the UVI researchers for the Virgin Islands.
An Associated Press account of the Census figures noted, "Construction and living costs, for instance, can drive up spending in urban areas, with schools essentially spending more to get the same goods and services that rural ones get." The AP also quoted an official of the National Conference of State Legislatures as saying that "education is the single largest line item in every state budget." The official also said that 17 states cut education funding in their 2002 budgets, and more cuts are coming for 2003.
In the Virgin Islands — which finds itself sometimes classified as a "rural" area and sometimes as an "urban" one — there is no question that construction and living costs are higher than in most mainland jurisdictions. But also contributing to the territory's inflated per-pupil cost is the cost of the educational bureaucracy.
In March, notifications of personnel action — NOPA's — were forwarded from the Education Department to the Personnel Division with pay increases resulting from a new agreement between the government and the Educational Administrators Association that came on top of major step increases implemented last fiscal year. Coordinators (in alphabetical order) of library programs, mathematics, pupil personnel, sciences, special education, staff development and training, and technology and multimedia services received raises (in numerical order), as follows:
– to $77,478 from $76,283 ($63,618 before step).
– to $77,478 from $76,283 ($63,618 before step).
– to $75,878 from $74,683 ($62,718 before step).
– to $74,683 from $73,507 ($62,718 before step).
– to $73,950 from $72,810 ($63,618 before step).
– to $73,507 from $72,350 ($63,618 before step).
– to $61,158 from $59,980 ($51,272 before step).
A self-defeating system
The department "has a problem with hierarchy of authority," the report states. "Featuring very tight span of control, an unnecessary hierarchy exists which overrides all other areas of organizational design. For all practical purposes, the LEA organizations do not exist."
Referencing the loss of accreditation by three high schools last fall, the researchers noted somewhat incredulously that then-Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds' "public statement that the Dec. 31, 2001, withdrawal of accreditation was a result of her not receiving a letter is actually a believable result under this organization." The problem, they wrote, is a structure wherein "authority and responsibility are located in different places," with the outcome in this case being "a perfect example of how the organization interferes with the delivery of services."
A possible solution, the researcher conclude, would be to transform the Education Department "from a political branch of government to an independent educational organization. This choice would be consistent with the majority of states." In this scenario, they say, the local educational agencies –i.e., the districts — "must become functional and cease to be part of the government's political structure … Simply put, for education to be efficient and effective, it must cease to be part of the political spoils system."
The researchers recommended that the territory's two school districts become independent school districts, each governed by a locally elected or appointed school board comprising community members responsible for the hiring and supervision of a district superintendent of schools.
The study involved the review of documents, budgets, procedures, manuals, charts and other material provided by the department along with interviews of personnel using a structured que
stion/response format. "The data gathered by document analysis was compared and contrasted with interview responses. Analysis of both sets of data produced the final evaluation," the introduction to the report states.
The researchers commended Education officials for cooperating in the study, and Simmonds "for her support and encouragement."
The findings were presented at a forum on positive approaches to solving the host of problems besetting the territory's public education system, an event hosted by the Virgin Islanders for Democratic Action Club on St. Thomas on May 4. Terrence Joseph, superintendent of schools for the St. Croix district, represented the Education Department at the forum. Among those who did not attend were the acting commissioner, Noreen Michael; the St. Thomas-St. John district superintendent, Rosalie Payne; and the Senate Education Committee chair, Norman Jn Baptiste.

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