Oct. 23, 2003 – The Senate Education and Youth Committee passed three bills on to the Rules Committee on Wednesday and deferred action on two others that were on the agenda.
Approved were measures to:
– Provide for one University of the Virgin Islands alumni representative and one administrative staff representative on the UVI board of trustees.
– Reduce the number of hours of community service required of public high school students for graduation to 220 from the current 500.
– Transfer final review in the appeals process regarding any decision of the Board of Education from the governor to a writ of review through Territorial Court.
UVI board makeup
After some discussion and testimony from UVI Provost Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, the committee also voted unanimously to pass the bill providing for one UVI alumus and one member of the university administration to have seats on the school's board of trustees.
Moolenaar said current members of the board of trustees oppose the bill and had sent her to represent them at the hearing. "We cannot have individuals that represent special interests on the board," she said. "This may create a conflict of interest."
The university has had a number of trustees who are UVI alumni, she said, but the board's concern is that the bill specifies a representative who is a member of the Alumni Association. "We welcome alumni on the board," she said, "but we caution against special-interest groups."
Sen. Louis Hill countered that in the case of the UVI Alumni Association, "its special interest is the university."
Sen. Ronald Russell, the committee chair, said he did not understand the board's objection, because it is his understanding that alumni join the association in order to give back to their institution.
Sen. Usie Richards asked why the Alumni Association would recommend an inappropriate person as its representative if UVI continues to seek the organization's economic support.
The university board now has one designated faculty representative and one student representative. Sen. Luther Renee asked why they are acceptable while an Alumni Association representative is not. Moolenaar replied that the two representatives — who are elected by their respective constituencies — go through an orientation process to make sure they understand that as board members they represent the university's interests and not just those of the faculty or students.
Community service requirement
Senators expressed mixed feelings about the bill reducing from 500 to 220 the number of hours of community service required for graduation from a public high school.
While many senators felt the higher number of hours was fine, they also noted a need for guidelines to address the circumstances of students who hold part-time jobs or who transfer to the school system midway through their high school education.
"The majority of students don't go home after school," Judy M. Gomez, representing the youth service group SPARKS — Students Promoting Awareness, Responsibility, Knowledge and Service — said. "They can find the time if they want to find the time," the former senator said. "I think by reducing the hours, youre doing them a disservice."
Sens. Roosevelt David, Hill, Norman Jn Baptiste and Russell voted for the measure. Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone and Richards voted against.
School board appeals
The bill to transfer final review in the Board of Education appeals process from the governor to Territorial Court was approved unanimously. All committee members were present and voting: Sens. David, Hill, Jn Baptiste, Malone, Luther Renee, Richards and Russell.
The committee deferred action on two other bills until a meeting set for Oct. 27 on St. Croix. One would establish a V.I. National Guard Youth Challenge program; the other would create a Teen Court.
The Youth Challenge program would award participants adult high school diplomas. The bill's focus is on young people at risk, such as those involved in gangs and antisocial behavior and drug users.
No one invited to testify on the bill appeared on Wednesday. Some who had been scheduled to appear sent word that they would do so instead at the hearing on St. Croix.
Gomez, testifying in her capacity as a V.I. Justice Department attorney, said the proposed Teen Court would allow teen-age defendants to be heard by a jury of their peers and would give the participating students hands-on experience and skills that would enhance their development.
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